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The net gains of money management

Nowadays students need to know a lot more about handling their finances and education is the key. Jerome Monahan reports

"Young people are growing up in a world in which to lack financial awareness and acumen, is, increasingly, to be placed at a disadvantage."

This stark warning, together with the gauntlet it throws down, opens a recent evaluation of a three-year project seeking to boost the quality of financial education in England.

The Excellence and Access report (available on the Personal Finance Education Group website) was carried out by researchers at Brunel University. It investigated the effectiveness of the pound;1.9 million Pfeg Excellence and Access programme based in 300 English schools and its findings were unveiled in January. The evaluation is sobering. While it celebrates the programme's successes, it also highlights how much still has to be done. "We have won the battle persuading the financial services industry and government of the value of such work," said Pfeg's chief executive Wendy van den Hende. "Now the biggest hurdle we face is convincing schools."

Of the 151 education authorities approached to take part in Excellence and Access, 45 took advantage of the offer and there were wide variations in the numbers of schools in each area recruited to the scheme. Meanwhile, Brunel's evaluation highlighted the extent to which teachers' confidence about tackling financial issues is often patchy at best. While six in 10 teachers questioned felt their knowledge and skills enabling them to tackle everyday financial management with their pupils were of a high order, more than a third felt ill-equipped.

By contrast, nearly one in two of those teachers questioned who took advantage of the programme (gaining the support of a Pfeg adviser, extra training and support in accessing or developing resources) felt that it was likely to have had a high impact on their pupils' financial skills.

Currently Pfeg are seeking up to pound;7.4 million in order to meet their next target of seeing 80 per cent of schools in England delivering high quality personal finance education by 2007.

"While financial education is now embedded in the curriculum as part of citizenship and PSHE, we are at pains to point out how financial issues can also be integrated into the broader curriculum," says Wendy van den Hende.

"We have produced a series of guides for teachers based on the best practice that emerged from the programme." Those relating to key stages 3 and 4 explain how financial education can fit perfectly well into a range of other lessons, including mathematics, geography, ICT and English.

Case studies in the guides include St Ambrose Barlow RC High School in Salford where Year 7 ICT lessons were devoted to a project involving planning and budgeting for a Halloween party. At the George Ward School, Wiltshire, personal finance was integrated into a larger culturalRE awareness programme in which Year 11 pupils investigated Chinese and Muslim attitudes to money and quizzed representatives of these communities about the financing of their respective religious festivals.

As well as the wide range of resources emerging from the Excellence and Access programme, it has helped highlight certain key principles that should guide all financial education (see tips below). "It is also the fact that many of us teaching the subject can benefit directly," explains Claire Barr, the personal and social development co-ordinator at Kings Manor Community College, in Shoreham-by-Sea. "I overheard one of my colleagues confessing how she hoped helping students with budgeting might enable her to get better at it."

For Pfeg adviser Peter McNamara, who supports teachers in Trafford and Salford, the benefits go even further: "Many of the communities that the schools serve are not reliant on traditional forms of debt, having to opt for catalogue buying and moneylenders to get by. In several schools our work focused on the benefits of credit unions and helped students unpick the actual costs associated with their families' usual, but expensive, financing options. Often, in such cases, by educating the child you help educate the whole family."

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