Adults seriously underestimate when young people can take responsibility for their money," says television money management guru Alvin Hall. This belief was recently echoed at a citizenship foundation conference in London where a group of teachers and educationists spent a day focused on the challenge of promoting better understanding of money matters in schools.
Underlying the event was the recognition that the subject can be a turn-off for young people. Don Rowe of the Citizenship Foundation drew attention to the irony of this: "Money: people think about it more than sex, families break up over it, huge numbers of people in the world have too little of it and a few people have obscenely large amounts of it. So, why is it so hard to teach?"
The Citizenship Foundation hopes a new set of leaflets will go some way towards assisting teachers with this task. The Money, Money, Money pack comprises five bright and busy handouts on starting work, banks, budgeting, claiming state benefits, and becoming a student.
The conference also provided the chance to hear from leading organisations about innovative projects and good practice. Will Ord of the Association of Citizenship Teaching underlined the need for teachers to be bold in their teaching. For him, financial literacy means more than helping teenagers learn to use a chequebook. It should embrace the relationship between personal economics and world finances. "Be relevant, be controversial," he insisted, pointing out how discussions of fair trade, for example, can give students a sense of the power of their spending decisions.
Wendy van den Hende of the Personal Finance Education Group (pfeg) emphasised the need for schools to go beyond simple discussions of personal finance. She outlined how, in addition to operating a quality mark scheme for personal finance teaching resources, pfeg is carrying out a four-year excellence and access project in 40 local authorities involving specialist advisers working alongside teachers.
One of the early highlights of this project was work conducted in a pupil referral unit in Lewisham in which students had to research the cost of local accommodation and work out how to provide it within a budget. "They quickly came to realise the extent to which they needed to reassess their ambitions," explained van den Hende.
"Their visions of houses in nearby affluent Blackheath village had to be adjusted."
In Hall's view, alongside tackling personal finance, young people need to look at their dreams and see if they relate to their prospects. Without such realism, financial literacy is likely to be flawed.
Droitwich Spa High School, Worcestershire
The school is in its first year of a Youth Bank project - part of a pilot scheme run in several schools in the West and East Midlands, London and Cambridgeshire.
"Each year five sixth-formers will be given complete control over a budget of pound;2,500," explains the school's vocational co-ordinator Sarah Williams.
"They are then responsible for promoting awareness of its existence to the school and inviting bids from students. In effect they act as trustees of the money."
Seventeen-year-old Katie Leach is one of this year's participants:"We are open to bids from pound;25 to pound;250. So far we have been busy explaining the scheme, emphasising the need when groups approach us to have prepared their suggestion very carefully, including detailed costings. In this way the kind of financial experience we will be getting is spread throughout the school."
Her fellow trustee Charlotte Alexander agrees: "It is going to be quite an achievement for tutor groups to be able to finalise a bid. The challenge goes far beyond financial matters."
Both students feel that such schemes are valuable because of a lack of financial advice from schools or parents. "It worries me how little people in my year know about such things. Soon many of them will probably be taking on an astonishing amount of debt if they go to university or college."
Southwell Primary School, Portland, Dorset
"A few years ago a lot of our play equipment would go missing," explains head teacher Stuart McLeod. "The children didn't respect it. We decided to tackle this by creating a school council with a budget of its own. Our bank set up an account and the children named it Southwell Supersavers.
"The money is raised through their own efforts, mainly healthy biscuit sales (though Jaffa Cakes do sneak in). Three members of Year 6 become permanent treasurers each year and two new representatives from every class join them each term. Every cheque they issue must be signed by two of the treasurers and countersigned by me. The need for a consistent signature was something the children hadn't faced before.
"An early focus of attention was the need for new cubicles in the girls' loos. The students had to arrange everything from contacting companies, to arranging and assessing estimates. Recently, the need for a Jacuzzi was raised. It would be easy to dismiss such ideas but, by looking at the cost of an item like this, the students gain huge insights about budgeting and the hidden costs associated with such things.
"One of the hardest things has been getting them to spend the money. They like having it in the bank."
Individual sets of Money, Money, Money are free to UK secondary schools.
Extra sets cost pound;1.95 each from The Citizenship FoundationTel: 020 7367 0500 www.citfou.org.ukmoney
The Institute of Citizenship produces extensive key stage 4 classroom materials concerning financial issues. Workmatters, Consuming Passions and Economic Citizenship www.citizen.org.ukeducationresources.html
Proshare Student Investor - Resource Pack (14-16). This nine-activity pack with online backup at www.innovation.gov.uksi2003 covers savings and investment, and the risks of stock market dealing. The materials are stand-alone but are intended to prepare students for the Student Investor Challenge.
Youth Bank in Schools project: contact Jane Buckley, Changemakers Tel: 01458 834767
Consumer Research Report 11: Personal Finance Teaching in Schools is available from the Financial Services AuthorityTel: 020 7676 1000 www.fsa.gov.uk
Fair Trade Foundation www.fairtrade.org.uk
Personal Finance Education Group www.pfeg.orgindex.htm Red Box, a new resource about tax www.redbox.gov.uk
Your Money (BBC) www.bbc.co.ukyourmoney