Cash in on a lesson that's on the money

Teaching personal finance can help students get a practical angle on maths, writes Jerome Monahan

With the nation's personal debt reaching pound;100 billion and new legislation on the way to curb unscrupulous money lenders, now is a good time to show students how mathematics can make them more careful about their finances.

The organisation pfeg (personal finance education group) ran a four-year excellence and access programme in more than 300 schools aimed at improving personal finance education. But there was a problem; while they were well geared to parts of the citizenship and PSHE curriculum, they did little to set the pulses racing among maths teachers.

To remedy this, five schools have been piloting a new set of Year 8 materials for pfeg. Chris Burke, the maths curriculum manager at Balderstone Technology College, Rochdale, is one of five teachers recruited to adapt the resources for maths teaching. "There is a crying need for maths that is embedded in true-life situations that engage young people, helping them to see an immediate practical benefit in the skills they are acquiring," he says.

For Chris, the ideal was not to go for grandiose cross-curricular exercises: "The school materials graveyard is full of such things, so it's better to opt for subject 'creep' as we have done here - getting the maths right first and then giving space for broader issues."

So the first sequence of lessons developed at Stantonbury Campus, Milton Keynes, is called Broadening Our Horizons and includes data handling, statistical enquiry, tourism and the impact of financial decisions on others.

Amy Sales, 13, of Rainham School for Girls in Kent said: "We were looking at everything involved in getting to Spain for our holiday. It was part of a whole set of lessons and we were using our maths to work out all sorts of things - the weight of our bags, distances and travel times to airports and when to buy stuff for our holiday."

At Needham Market Middle School, students had a chance to improve calculation, estimation and checking to decide on a destination.

Senior teacher Peter Gunter said: "The exercise allowed for considerable differentiation. The most able attempted to fit their travel ambitions to their budgets - the farthest one went trekking in the Himalayas. Less able students researched package holidays. The key thing is that all were using real print and online materials such as budget airline sites as the basis of their work."

At Whalley Range High School in Manchester, teacher Richard Halliwell was amused by some of the things students omitted in their calculations. "They often underestimated what they would need to live on while abroad," he said. "A number of groups considered taking out loans so that they could make the most of their time, that is until we looked at interest rates."

Despite such sobering discoveries, the pilot lessons were widely praised by students. "It is good to teach maths in this way," said Whalley Range student Latifah Brown. "It is what you are going to need when you get older." For one of Chris Burke's students, the work appears to have had an even more profound effect: "He said this project had convinced him he wanted to be a bank manager when he grew up."

l Pilot schools: Needham Market Middle School, Suffolk; Rainham School for Girls, Kent; Balderstone Technology College, Rochdale; Stantonbury Campus, Milton Keynes; Whalley Range High School, Manchester

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