Take stock of investments

6th January 2012 at 00:00
A national contest that sees pupils buy and sell shares and compete to make the most money from their investments is far more than a lesson in money management. Jean McLeish reports on the rich experience

While other teenagers might be logging onto Facebook first thing in the morning, these sixth-years at Glenrothes High are more likely to be checking out their share prices.

And if they are looking glummer than usual in class, it may be due to a downturn in the market rather than a romantic disappointment.

The team started trading after the October break - rather nervously at first - with pound;1,500 to invest. Now they are keeping an anxious eye on their investments and taking a keener than usual interest in how events in the Eurozone impact on share values.

There is more than just money at stake here - the pupils are taking part in a national contest where school teams buy and sell shares to see who makes most from their investments.

Shares4Schools is a popular competition run by leading retail stockbroker The Share Centre to bring the business world to life for young people, giving them a chance to invest real money and watch how their portfolio performs. As well as checking out their share prices, pupils can look at the online schools league table and see how other schools' portfolios are doing.

"You can't see what they're doing, but you can have a look at their graphs which shows you the value of their portfolio," says Innes Robertson, who heads up Glenrothes High investors' team.

The team that wins is the one that makes the greatest profit on its pound;1,500 investment between October and June when they sell up. Schools are encouraged to raise their own initial investment through fundraising and sponsorship from local businesses and from The Share Centre. Another three Scottish schools are taking part this year - Tarbert Academy, Dollar Academy and King's Park Secondary in Glasgow.

The powerhouse behind these young Fife investors is Afifa Khanam, the school's energetic faculty head of business and enterprise. A mum of four who has run her own restaurant business, Ms Khanam is an enthusiastic ambassador for business education.

"This is a fascinating time. In the current economic climate there is a buzz going on. If you've got money now - this is the time to buy," says Ms Khanam, who recently completed the Scottish Qualification for Headship.

Her team of five traders are studying Higher business management and their investment portfolio is designed to support their learning and give them an insight into the stock market and investment. They are currently studying marketing and finance and linking what they learn in class with what they are picking up from this competition.

"It is taking a risk. But think of the teamwork. They have got to communicate, they have got to integrate and discuss it and somebody has to make the decision," says Ms Khanam. "The thing is, in business, if you don't take the risk, you don't know if you will win or if you will lose."

The pupils' decisions are based on research at home and in school, looking at websites, watching business news on television and reading the business section in newspapers. "They're looking at what's going on and doing their research first. They're not just going to say eeny meeny miny mo," says their teacher.

She carries out the online transaction on behalf of the pupils, once they have reached their decision.

"I thought it would be a really good opportunity to reinforce what we are doing in class," says 17-year-old Innes Robertson, who plans to study geography at university. "We're looking at shareholders in class, so I thought this would be a good way of getting into a real-world context and not just theory in class."

He is team leader and encouraged the group to follow his instincts with their first investment online. "Yesterday we went on and we invested in Royal Bank of Scotland, because I was having a look at home and - just doing a bit of research - saw that the price of the shares was really low."

Innes discussed his proposal with the group and they opted to put all of their pound;1,500 into RBS shares. "I just thought because the banks are making profits this year that it might be a good investment. Because the price was really low, it was bound to go up at some point," says Innes. The shares have been sitting at around 26 pence the week pupils begin trading - in 2007 the same shares were worth around pound;8 a share.

Headteacher Ruth McFarlane is delighted her students are competing. "Our learners hugely benefit from initiatives like this. It is an enjoyable learning experience, set within a realistic context, to develop skills and better prepare pupils for their future. At Glenrothes High School we have a wide range of enterprising initiatives and these are proving to be motivational for our pupils."

Another young investor, Maria Murdoch, 17, was inspired to study business management by her dad, who runs an engineering business.

"This is actually quite exciting, because you know that you're playing with real money and you get to make the decision yourself. It's a good experience and it's a good thing to put on your personal statement," says Maria, who wants to study English or psychology at university.

The school was awarded pound;750 from Shares4School and raised the rest of their pound;1,500 investment pot from fundraising events like a Hallowe'en disco, organised and run by third-year pupils as an enterprise venture.

Another Shares4Schools team member, Hannah Shanks, 17, plans a future in fashion and thinks a business management Higher and Shares4Schools will be worthwhile assets. Hannah's refusing to let the school uniform constrain her sense of style and is using the lapels of her blazer as a runway for an array of badges, including a red woollen poppy knitted by her granny.

She dreams of launching her own label: "This will help me in the future. If I want to have my own fashion business, then it would help me to know all about this. It's a good opportunity to handle money," she says.

The five are also taking part in a virtual trading competition - Student Investor Challenge, run by the ifs School of Finance.

In this competition, students have a notional pound;100,000 to invest with the safety net of knowing they are not working with real money. Eight teams of fourth, fifth and sixth-year pupils are taking part, so there may well be a fight to get a look at the FT in this school.

Their investments inspire interest in international current affairs and encourage them to watch how political events in Europe and beyond are influencing financial markets.

Although they have only just begun to trade, there is already excitement about their portfolios and a competitive edge between teams. They are up against more than 4,000 teams of virtual traders competing online across the country in a venture designed to hone teamwork, problem solving, decision-making and time management.

"I've been looking at the virtual shares to get an idea of the market. It's quite good because you don't have to worry about losing the money," says Nicole Sharp, 17, who is in Shares4Schools and Student Investor Challenge. After Higher business management, Nicole plans to continue business studies at Heriot-Watt University.

Some pupils enjoy taking a risk - like sixth-year pupil Vanessa Gemmell, who comes here from nearby Auchmuty High to join the business management Higher class and Shares4Schools.

"I think taking the risk is quite exciting. When you're buying a share you don't know whether it's going to go shooting up or if it's going to go up slightly and drop. I like that kind of risk," says Vanessa. She would like to run her own business, but has her heart set on midwifery. "I like helping others and I think seeing new life is exciting."

Another team of business high-fliers from the school's S3 business and administration class has just won the Scottish final of the Real Business Challenge and will represent Scotland in the UK final in London this month. Pupils have to tackle a business challenge set by Coca-Cola Enterprises for this competition, which is linked to the curriculum.

The five-strong team was supported by business studies teacher Tom Doyle and had to design and market a new drink to win through to the Scottish final of the Real Business Challenge. "The pupils actually made a prototype and gave it to the judges to taste," says Ms Khanam.

The secret of their success? "It's made with raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and apples."


Schools can use any profits they make from trading at their own discretion - but they are also reminded that they may lose money.

At some schools, trading is part of a whole-class activity, but the organisers recommend teams of between four and 10. The more pupils involved, the more difficult it can be to reach a decision.

Teachers who have taken part in the competition before suggest encouraging pupils to apply for a place in the team to ensure genuine interest and commitment. And although Shares4Schools tends to attract pupils interested in economics or business studies, the competition is open to anyone with an interest in learning more about the stock market.

There is information about investing in stocks and shares on the Shares4Schools website and pupils can monitor their own and other schools' progress on online regional and national league tables. At the end of the year, the national winner and four regional winners are invited to an award ceremony in London.

By the beginning of December, as the crisis in the Eurozone deepened, the value of Glenrothes High's investments had dropped by 25 per cent, Dollar Academy was down by 11.1 per cent, Tarbert Academy was down by 9.7 per cent and King's Park Secondary was down 4.7 per cent.

Glenrothes High School team leader Innes Robertson commented: "As we all know, the markets have been rather volatile over the past few weeks. The team is using this time as a learning experience, and we hope to see market improvement in the next six months.

"The team is looking to break even with the shares at the end of the competition, but obviously any profit made would be a bonus."



Photo credit: Fraser Band

Afifa Khanam (in red) guides pupils who are making decisions about their investment based on research, looking at websites and reading the business section in newspapers.


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