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Facing financial reality

Students in the Midlands can have their commercial plans and forecasts vetted by a bank manager. Allen Edwards explains NatWest's new business literacy scheme.

A dash of realism has been brought to a business General National Vocational Qualification at a Midlands school, where business studies students are put through their paces by a real-life bank manager. Caludon Castle Secondary School in Coventry is one of many that has taken advantage of NatWest's Financial Literacy Centre to liven up its GNVQ in business. As part of the scheme, which is free to schools, trained bank staff come into classrooms to teach aspects of finance. They provide hands-on activities for pupils, and work with teachers to widen their understanding of financial management. The centre is based at the University of Warwick. As well as co-ordinating the training of bank staff to assist teachers, it offers a range of material for use in projects with secondary pupils.

The bank decided to base the centre at the university because of Warwick's links with business. At Caludon Castle School, the involvement of a bank manager adds a new dimension to the GNVQ course, which is taught to sixth-formers.

Anthony Parker, manager of NatWest's Warwick University branch, has formal meetings with students, who have to explain business plans they have prepared as part of the course.

The sixth-formers have to treat the meeting as real. They are expected to dress smartly and give a detailed explanation of their overall business plan, cash-flow forecast, approach to marketing and other aspects of running a business. Frank Walton, a business studies teacher, says: "It is like a real business meeting with a bank manager, and it is very useful. We have had students who have tried to blag it and they just haven't survived.

"There has been a real change in attitude since we developed the link with NatWest. Some students have been amazed by the amount of work they have to do to present information.

"Some get quite nervous. But if they have done their research, they will excel. It is good to have somebody from the outside questioning them, rather than teachers who may know next to nothing about business."

The session is also videotaped, so the sixth-formers can study the importance of good communication skills.

Mr Walton says the link has helped GNVQ business students develop a higher level of financial literacy than other sixth-formers doing A-level economics, and a far better understanding than most 16 to 18-year-olds.

NatWest's Kelvyn Curry says the bank set up the centre in 1995 after reviewing its usefulness to the community. NatWest decided to focus on explaining finance, which is what it does best, rather than supporting a range of other community projects. Bank staff benefit from the opportunity to develop skills in communication and teamwork.

Materials used by bank staff are checked by teachers for relevance to the national curriculum.

NatWest hopes the centre will eventually become a national centre of excellence for education in financial literacy, increasingly used by teachers and business.

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