Get to grips with money matters

13th October 2006 at 01:00
Money doesn't grow on trees. We know it, but do your pupils? Su Clark finds out how a throw-away comment led to a financial education pack for primaries

Chance remarks made by school inspectors are not the sort of thing teachers ignore. Most will store up those comments and act on them, as did Roz McEwan, the deputy head at Dunblane Primary.

Within weeks of a casual, rather than critical, comment that perhaps her children's financial awareness was a bit weak, Mrs McEwan launched an audit. The results were unsettling. Some of the P1 children thought that when you paid for things in shops the money went to charity, while some P7s thought heating was free because they had never seen their parents pay a bill.

"I think as adults we make a lot of assumptions, but we have to ask questions. Do our children realise that when we ask for cash back in the shops, the money actually belongs to us or that we have to have funds in the bank to take money from the hole in the wall? I'm not so sure," she says.

"We, as educators, need to develop financial understanding, competence, responsibility and enterprise in young people. After all, it's not about how much money we have but how we manage it that counts."

In the past four years, since the audit, the Stirling school has revolutionised its pupils' understanding of money through a series of annual themed weeks which have been woven into the curriculum. These also fit with A Curriculum for Excellence.

"If we don't give our children the opportunities to manage money, how can we expect them to be responsible, effective, successful, confident members of society?" asks Mrs McEwan.

The initiative soon came to the attention of the Financial Services Authority and the Scottish Centre for Financial Education at Learning and Teaching Scotland, and Mrs McEwan was asked to be involved in the development of a resource that helps to introduce money and finance into the primary curriculum. The teacher-friendly pack, produced by the SCFA and supported with funding and expertise from Standard Life, was previewed at last month's Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow and will soon be sent out to schools.

It has been piloted at Dunblane Primary, where the teachers have found it far from onerous.

"The in-service training was clear and the resource easy to use. It heightened awareness that children don't understand the purpose of money, as they often don't get to use it," says P3 teacher Stella McLaughlan.

From the beginning, Mrs McEwan was determined the resource would be practical, avoid incurred costs and fit within the curriculum. "It is not an add-on and can fit with every core subject in the curriculum," she says.

"The pack is full of suggestions and ideas about what to do with the children, within the context of the curriculum. You can use it from nursery to P6."

During the latest themed week at the school, P1 children covered the People in the Past curriculum topic with a pound shop project, where they collected information from adults, at home and school, about their shopping experiences as children. P5 children covered enterprise by looking at how to keep accounts, which gave them an opportunity to find out about the skills and abilities needed to work in a bank. A parent who works in a bank joined the class to talk about her experiences. The P6 children designed a menu, using an internet supermarket site to cost the food.

The feedback from staff has been positive.

"I thought it was fantastic," says Miranda Goodwin, a nursery teacher. "We set up a food shop in the nursery and we visited a local shop to buy food for snacks for their parents. The children invited their parentscarers in to have tea with us. The children made and served the snacks."

The children also enjoy it.

"We had a budget of pound;10 to feed four people and bought the food at the supermarket," says one P6 child. "We invited a cook and he came and cooked the menu for us. We had melon and strawberries, chicken stir fry and strawberry fool. We enjoyed it very much."

Mrs McEwan is now confident that any future casual comments from school inspectors about financial education at the school will only be positive.

Money Week with be launched on November 9 and distributed to primary schools via local authorities

www.ltscotland.org.ukfinancialeducation

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