A school you can bank on

Olivia loves shoes and Natalie likes clothes, but both 13-year-olds know the importance of saving. Henry Hepburn reports

It looks like a mundane scene at first: tellers are processing deposits as customers line up and pass the time gazing at the financial advice on the walls.

But this bank's neighbours are not Woolworths, Greggs or the Post Office - they are the classrooms of St Columba's High in Gourock.

The school has taken an innovative approach to financial education by setting up a working bank. Open at lunchtime two days a week, it was designed and is staffed by older pupils. S5 pupil Stephen Hepburn explains that the importance of security meant they had to come up with a "sturdy" design - but they also had to bear in mind the height of some customers and make sure the counter was at a level that allowed them to see the teller. Its staff, who take advice from RBS schools liaison manager Hayley Docherty, include five tellers, two customer services advisers and one pupil in marketing.

Customer services adviser Billy Balloch, 14, says: "We help people to fill out their forms and to get money into the bank, and if there are any problems with their cards."

It is used only by S1-2, but it is hoped that eventually the whole school will use the service - even teachers have expressed an interest.

Customers can deposit money in a savings account, although the bank does not deal with withdrawals, so pupils can only get their hands on their money outside school.

Natalie Rice and Olivia Devine, both 13, think it is a good idea. Olivia has a huge collection of shoes which she is always tempted to add to, so the convenience of a school-based bank has made it easier to save - "there's just a wee form and you're away".

Natalie spends a lot of money on clothes but is aware of the importance of saving. Traipsing into town from school, then back home "takes too long", but being able to put a few pounds away at lunchtime is helping her build up her account.

Last year, St Columba's ran a Royal Bank of Scotland course for S1-2s, MoneySense for Schools, as part of ICT and business lessons, but staff also wanted to introduce a more practical side to financial education. They had remarked on how pupils had little daily experience of dealing with money. In the canteen, for example, pupils use special cards to pay for meals, while many come from deprived areas and families which may not hold a bank account.

"The bank was a way of bringing the reality of what's going on, as the pupils live in an era of plastic cards," says Linda McGlinchey, principal teacher of enterprise and citizenship. She sees it as one way of averting the "serious financial trouble" that some people may find themselves in in their early twenties.

Mrs McGlinchey believes having a bank in school demystifies financial institutions and gives children more confidence. "Pupils need to be informed and not frightened or cowed by the authority banks have," she says. "They feel in charge of their life and in control."

Such schemes also help some pupils see that there is a point to school: "It sends out a signal that the school experience is relevant to the real world."

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