Steven Swain hears one woman's plans to increase financial literacy
Deborah Arnott is adamant that the last thing on her mind is to add to teachers' workload. But, as head of consumer education at the fledgling Financial Services Authority, one of her priorities is to improve the nation's financial literacy - and that means starting young.
"There are lots of things that can be done through the existing national curriculum, especially at key stages 1 and 2. We're not out to give teachers more work," says Ms Arnott, who took up her job nearly two months ago.
With a Masters in business administration and a background in business and financial journalism, she started her career in industrial relations at Triumph Cars in Coventry. She was a writer at Management Today before moving into television, working on consumer and social action programmes.
At London Weekend Television, she developed and edited Dosh, the populist money programme latterly fronted by Adam Faith.
Investigating pensions mis-selling in the early 1990s brought her into contact with Peter Davies, the former Prudential head who now chairs the FSA, set up last year to promote understanding of the financial system.
Consumers seem to agree that education is needed. An NOP survey in August found that 87 per cent of adults questioned believed schools should teach personal finance.
In October the FSA launched a consultation paper on its strategy for consumer education. This notes that: "Acting in partnership is vital ... to ensure access to the widest possible audience from school age up."
One example of such a partnership, says Ms Arnott, is the Personal Finance Education Group, which includes representatives from the financial services, government officials, and consumer representatives as well as educationists. The group has identified points in the national curriculum where personal finance education can be introduced, and has a pilot scheme to test how this could work.
Ms Arnott recalls being introduced to calculus in A-level maths and being asked to work out how long it would take to fill a bath with paint.
"Working out APR (annual percentage rate of interest) would be more to the point," she says, admitting to having been "heavily in debt" while at university.
"We know we can't insert a new subject into the curriculum, but there are areas such as maths, IT and citizenship where financial concepts can be easily introduced," she says.
She dismisses the idea that personal finance lessons might be considered boring: "Children are interested in money - how to get it, how to spend it, how to save it - just like everyone else."
The FSA's consultation paper is available from: Deborah Arnott, FSA, 25 The North Colonnade, Canary Wharf, London E14 5HS e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. uk
FINANCE IN THE CURRICULUM
Maths: interest-rate calculations. Use real-world illustrations from "best buy" tables in the Sunday broadsheets.
IT: compare financial services' providers' Web sites.
Design and technology: contrast styles of advertising of merchant banks and "in your face" message of new players such as Egg or Virgin Direct.
Literacy: non-literary items such as credit-card agreements and building society brochures. Some gain the Plain English Campaign's crystal mark, others do not.