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Banking on the syllabus

Keeping their money in order is no problem for pupils who have their own Schoolbranch, says Sarah Farley

Managed and staffed by pupils, Schoolbranches are actual working branches of HSBC, offering a range of services that include account opening, cash withdrawals and deposits.

"Although most schools follow a similar pattern, with the pupils running the bank under supervision, we do adapt the way it works to fit the needs of different schools," says Anne Lowe, HSBC schools liaison officer in Birmingham. "Some prefer to choose pupils from particular courses, such as business studies, while others have a selection process open to anyone. The staff are more closely involved in some schools than in others, but even primary school pupils have to take a fair bit of responsibility."

At Bordesley Green Girls' School, a business and enterprise status school in Birmingham, Year 10 pupils can apply to be a cashier in the weekly bank.

The girls are assessed by staff for their skills, qualifications, punctuality and reliability. Established 10 years ago, the bank can take up to pound;700 a week. Although pupils are discouraged from bringing large amounts of money into school, many pupils bank their earnings or gifts through the branch.

"On the whole the branch runs smoothly, although it can be rather a race to fit it all in the time allowed," says maths teacher Hugh Clixby. "Very rarely there is a discrepancy but we usually manage to sort it out satisfactorily. It is a very good way of helping the girls gain confidence in dealing with money matters and generally in working with others. It is useful for their record of achievement and some do work experience or even go on to take jobs in banks. It certainly helps their maths, especially mental arithmetic and checking the use of calculators. It is a real situation so it is taken seriously."

HSBC branch managers are sometimes involved in the selection of the Schoolbranch staff. Pupils send in CVs and a bank representative interviews for the posts, arranges work experience and selects candidates for the bank's training programme.

HSBC branches vary considerably around the country in what support they offer. Birmingham is currently the only city to have a member of staff allotted to the scheme. Some other banks run programmes to help students get to grips with personal finance, credit cards, and preparing for further education.

Anne Lowe is responsible for 60 schools in Birmingham. She visits each regularly, helps set the branch up, trains cashiers, sorts out problems and collects any cash deposited.

"Each school operates differently. For example, the Heartlands High School prefers Joyce Williamson, who runs the school printing and shop, to be the cashier," Anne says. "There is a steady stream of small amounts of cash coming in and the school has a system whereby Joyce keeps the cash until it amounts to pound;1, then it is added to the pupil's account. They are given a raffle ticket which goes into a pound;25 draw at the end of term."

Joyce Williamson thinks the branch brings great benefits for pupils: "It makes them aware how small amounts can make a difference, what they could save by not buying so many bottles of pop at 80p a time, and how to take responsibility for their money."

It takes just pound;1 to open an HSBC account for schoolchildren, with differing accounts depending on age. The same rates of interest apply as to non-school accounts and pupils are allowed to draw up to pound;5 a week.

Statements and records are all held by the local HSBC branch, so apart from the register of money paid in, no one at school knows what is happening in an account.

There are also freebies in the form of caps, money boxes, radios and a cash card for savers over 11.

It is not just pupils who can use the branch. Staff can also hold accounts at a Schoolbranch, a facility often used for coffee funds or school trips.

Adults can withdraw up to pound;35 and pay bills. In some cases, HSBC staff will offer the school advice, talk to students about managing money and help them fill in forms.

At Colebourne Primary School, also in Birmingham, learning support assistant Sandra Duffy runs the branch, which started six years ago. "The school has found it really boosts maths skills. We don't always pick the most mathematically able children to be cashiers - we have a mix of abilities and it is interesting to see how they begin to work as a team," she says.

Having been saving for several years, the children are keen to take part when they reach Year 5. "I was surprised how much fun it is," says Harrison, who, with Jessica and Naomi, is methodically counting coins, putting them in bags and stamping the paying-in slips with enthusiasm.

"We have to be very careful," says Naomi. "I definitely know which coin is which now."

* Further information from Anne Lowe, HSBC schools liaison officer. Tel: 07717 484461

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