New bid to sell financial literacy

9th September 2005 at 01:00
The entitlement to financial education is still not a reality for most pupils - six years after the Scottish Executive made clear the priority it attached to the initiative.

The Scottish Centre for Financial Education has now renewed its call for every school to have a planned programme of activities aimed at fostering financial literacy.

Jim Lally, director of the centre, part of Learning and Teaching Scotland, said: "Awareness of how to handle personal finances, to budget and save, and to deal with credit and insurance companies and banks are vital life skills."

Despite the official endorsement in 1999 which led to the provision of financial education in many schools, Mr Lally described the general situation as "patchy".

The Executive's view at that time was expressed by Peter Peacock, then Deputy Education Minister. Mr Peacock drew attention in particular to the importance of those in greatest need having access to financial know-how.

"Success in tackling financial exclusion is essential to achieving our wider aims in eliminating social exclusion," he said.

Mr Lally observed, however: "In secondary schools, it can be taught through business education subjects and home economics, but not all pupils take these subjects. It needs therefore to be delivered, in a planned way, through compulsory subjects such as maths, personal and social education, religious education and languages.

"In primary schools, it can be taught through maths and environmental studies. That is the only way we can ensure that essential messages get across to everyone."

The centre's call coincides with a survey by the company Docucorp of 1,000 UK consumers, published last week. This showed a high level of financial disinterest, particularly among the young. Nearly a half (49 per cent) of those aged under 30 stated they were more likely to read information provided with toiletries and cereal packets than any financial correspondence. A fifth said they were unlikely to study the fine print on mortgages and insurance.

Mr Lally said: "Schools need not take pupils through the small print of credit agreements. But they do need to raise awareness of money issues and the skills needed to handle them - and why these skills are so important to them in the long term."

In order to boost moves towards the universal entitlement to financial education, the SCFE was launched in 2002 and bankrolled by the Executive and the Royal Bank of Scotland, with matching funding of pound;50,000 a year for an initial three-year period. Its first piece of work was the distribution to all secondary schools of a CD-Rom on "Facing Up to Finance", aimed at S3-S4.

The centre has since run a number of seminars for school leaders and produced teaching materials. But, in Mr Lally's view, progress has been hampered by the attitude that financial education is a cross-curricular issue, "so no one person in each school thinks it is their responsibility".

That view was supported in a report in January from the Scottish Council Foundation think-tank, which criticised the provision of "a small amount of financial education on an occasional basis". In Scotland, 11 per cent of people do not have a bank account and 37 per cent of households have no savings, with many going to high-cost lenders for credit.

The SCFE has now embarked on a new drive, working with schools in Dumfries and Galloway. Seminars are being run to train secondary school representatives in undertaking a school audit of financial education. This will be followed by in-school support from the SCFE to help devise programmes initially aimed at senior pupils. It is planned to extend this approach to Glasgow and Renfrewshire and then the rest of Scotland - subject to continuing funding for the centre.

Mr Lally said: "We would like schools to build on what they already do.

They could deliver financial education through specialist units taught within the traditional subjects, or on special activities days."

Jim Montefort, enterprise education officer in Dumfries and Galloway, agrees that financial education in schools has been "patchy and piecemeal".

In a letter to secondary school heads, he states: "The need to develop financial capability in our pupils is now increasingly and formally recognised at all levels."

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