Of city suits and pocket money

20th September 1996 at 01:00
Mark Whitehead on the moneymen who want teenagers to spend a little time studying finance.

By the standards of most 15-year-olds, Emma Upson is rich. She earns Pounds 10 a week helping at home and Pounds 20 a week from a Sunday job cooking and serving food at a nearby sailing club. She has her own bank account - balance 15p.

"I spend it all on clothes and going out," she says. "I'm too young to worry about things like saving. I'm enjoying life."

Emma is one of the cheerfully spendthrift youngsters at Little Heath comprehensive in Tilehurst, Berkshire. Her friends are more prudent. Ronald Constant, 15, wants to go on to study law. "I usually plan in advance how to spend money, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way because of unexpected expenses," he says.

Emma and Ronald and their friends are being taught about personal finance at school. They are studying a six-week unit in their personal and social education lessons, and are covering the intricacies of interest rates and percentages in maths.

But moneymen in the City think they could do more. A group of financial bodies headed by Robert Browne-Clayton of Independent Finance Advice Promotion wants to put personal finance on the national curriculum.

"Most children leaving school have no idea how to manage their finances, " says Mr Browne-Clayton. "They don't understand what a pension is, how interest rates work, or even how to write out a cheque."

He argues that, with the gradual decline of the welfare state, it is becoming increasingly important for people to know how to sort out their own unemployment insurance, health care plans and pension schemes.

Juliet Wells, education officer at the Consumers' Association, says: "People are going to have to protect themselves for the future. But you can't expect them to make important decisions on how to spend their money if they haven't been educated about what's available on the market."

Mr Browne-Clayton's committee this week launched the Getting Personal with Finance campaign - with the help of agony aunt Claire Rayner - to promote financial understanding.

According to the committee's research, three-quarters of 18-year-olds say they need more advice on money management, while nearly a fifth say they know nothing at all about it.

But the moneymen's plans may fall on sceptical ears where it counts - with the teachers.

"Most schools have some sort of savings arrangement linked to a bank to promote being sensible with money," said a spokesman for the National Union of Teachers. "There is a fair amount of material going into schools from banks and building societies already and much of it is very good. But there is a danger that some material may seek to promote a company or a product."

Kelvyn Curry is national co-ordinator of the Natwest Financial Literacy Centre at Warwick University, which has sunk Pounds 3 million into schools in the past two years. He says: "If youngsters know nothing about personal finance, they could get themselves into trouble, and people in education are beginning to realise that we need to do something about it."

Meanwhile, Emma and her friends are enjoying life though they agree with lessons in money management. "It would definitely be worthwhile," says Emma. "Especially for me."

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