A new campaign aims to help pupils get penny wise from an early age. Gill Moore and Stephen Manning report.You're never too young to learn how to be a bank manager, apparently. Though it sounds like something out of a Monty Python sketch, 10-year-olds suited up with hair slicked back cashing cheques and checking cash is one effective way of getting them to think about personal finance. These penny-wise pupils are running a school bank at Ridgeway Primary School in Chasetown, Staffordshire.
Personal finance is back on the education agenda, with the launch this week of What Money Means, a national campaign to improve finance education in primary schools, run by the Personal Finance Education Group (pfeg), an educational charity, and HSBC bank. A new survey to accompany the launch suggests that children have a surprisingly good attitude to money. Of the 1,396 pupils aged seven to 11 who were quizzed, 76 per cent said they were already saving, while one in 10 claimed to be saving for the future - perhaps a car, house, or university.
The school bank is a long-established way of helping children to develop financial awareness. Anne Lowe, HSBC's schools liaison manager for the Birmingham area, has, in the past 15 years, helped set up about 50 school banks in the region.
Recently, she and her colleague Sandra Howes have paid several visits to Ridgeway. They have instructed staff on how to meet the "economic wellbeing" strand of Every Child Matters, and have taken an assembly for Year 5 to explain the idea of the school bank and its roles - branch manager, cashier, book-keeper and marketing manager.
"The idea is to teach children the importance of saving for the future, to develop a saving mentality," says Anne. "But, as well as that, it's also about life skills - applying for a job, being interviewed, and then working in a responsible manner. The important thing is that the bank is run by the pupils, not the teachers."
Anne and Sandra interviewed applicants for these roles, keeping the whole process as close to a real job interview as possible. Letters went home to parents beforehand requesting that interviewees dress appropriately and, on the day, the boys arrived in dark jacket and trousers, white shirt and tie, plus a few with hair gelled for that extra corporate touch. The girls were also in dark suits, some with hair tied back.
In fact, all applicants were given jobs, and three teams were created to share the work. As Anne says, a school bank is so closely supervised that it is a good opportunity to involve children who normally do not get picked to do things, including those with special needs.
Next was the training day, when the new managers, assistant managers, clerks, cashiers and the marketing manager learned how to handle the paperwork, such as opening accounts or dealing with paying-in slips. They also did some role-playing activities to learn to deal with customers. The bank "went live" the next day.
Ridgeway's bank operates every Wednesday morning and is open for half an hour. Year 6 pupils work in the bank, under the supervision of HSBC staff, while other children queue up to deposit money in their accounts. At the end of the session, the bank staff take the money away to deposit in the real bank. Each child works in the school bank for a year, receiving a certificate of achievement at the end.
Of around 130 pupils in key stage 2, 75 have now opened bank accounts. Joanne Jelves, the school's headteacher, is encouraged.
"Children don't see adults using cash these days, because a lot of shopping is done with cards," she says. "So I think it's important that they have the chance to handle cash, counting change and so on. And it's not been a flash in the pan - children are coming back week after week to put more money into their accounts."
Gill Moore is chair of governors at Ridgeway Primary School, Chasetown, Burntwood, Staffordshire
What Money Means, launched by the Personal Finance Education Group and HSBC bank, is a national five-year programme to improve financial education in primary schools. Resources for teachers will be developed in phases, with the first available free to primary schools in England from January. Schools can get more information or pre-order resources at www.pfeg.org.