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Nic Cicutti: Kids deserve better than this financial education mess


One of the reality TV sensations over the past two or three years has been the rise in programmes about teaching and schools. Educating Essex initially and then Educating Yorkshire delivered not only riveting television viewing, but they also gave a sharp taste of the difficulties involved in teaching today’s youngsters.

Last week I caught a BBC3 repeat of another series, Tough Young Teachers, which looks at the first year in teaching experienced by a group of graduates parachuted into two challenging London schools.

The monstering faced by some of the young teachers was incredible, with pupils falling asleep in class, completely ignoring and talking over attempts to teach them, climbing over desks, throwing things and fighting with each other. It was hard to see how any learning could take place in such an environment.

It did not help, of course, that a few teachers seemed hopelessly out of touch with the social environment of their pupils. Such a huge gulf between the real-life experiences of students and those supposed to teach them is bound to hinder the learning process, at least to some extent.

I was reminded of all this when reading Tessa Norman’s article in Money Marketing last week about the challenges involved in implementing the introduction of financial education to the national curriculum.

Two years ago, following a prolonged campaign by the Personal Finance Education Group, as well as MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis, the Department for Education announced that financial education had been included in the national curriculum for England. 

At the time, former Pfeg chief executive Tracey Bleakley described this as a “huge victory”.

Justin Tomlinson MP, chairman of the all party parliamentary group on financial education, was moved to claim that “generations of young people will now gain the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to be able to manage their personal finances.”

The new curriculum came into force last September. But as Tessa points out in her article, progress is patchy at best, with a survey of almost 500 teachers carried out by Royal Bank of Scotland last year finding “only 5 per cent felt fully prepared to teach financial education.”

None of this ought to be surprising. While the various school-based TV reality shows focused mainly on the inter-relationships between teachers and pupils, one of the background issues simmering away in all of them was the increasing range of bureaucratic demands on educators’ time.

Devising new and interesting ways to introduce financial subjects into the many different educational strands a teacher is now required to impart to kids in the classroom was always likely to be a huge challenge.

Perhaps more resources to help teachers are needed: in which case maybe some of the Money Advice Service’s otherwise wasted funds should be diverted towards organisations, like Pfeg, who have genuine insight into how to provide financial education in the classroom.

It does not help that, as Martin Lewis acknowledges, the national curriculum only applies to so-called “maintained” schools still under the control of local education authorities.

Independent schools and self-governing academies, whose numbers have grown from a few hundred to almost 4,500 in the past four years, now make up virtually two thirds of total secondary school places in England. They have significant autonomy in the way they apply the curriculum.

The result is that, for now at least, in maintained schools financial education is a curriculum subject likely to taught in a largely perfunctory manner to unreceptive pupils by overworked teachers. And in academy or private schools whose head teachers do not see the issue as a priority, it may not feature in lessons at all, or at a teacher’s whim when it does.

What Tessa’s article also did not have space to mention was in the Government’s drive to devolve education from LEAs to directly-funded academies, it is doing the same to teacher training.

The Department for Education is fast-tracking its School Direct system, whereby schools and not universities take charge of teacher education. In effect, recognised training offering a safe and uniform environment that could prepare student teachers themselves to introduce financial education into their classrooms is being done away with.

Martin is right, of course, to argue this is the first year of the new curriculum coming into operation and bedding-in problems are likely.

All this, however, does not excuse the current confusing mess between different private institutions, all providing their own versions of financial education in the classroom under their own brand names.

This inability to co-operate, even where there is a perfectly viable vehicle to incorporate the different approaches to teaching finance in schools, is dreadful. It is time for all those who claim to have a stake in the financial education of young people to come together under one umbrella.

Maybe it is time to be more realistic about the potential outcome of a project that can only ever be one strand in the process of ensuring better financial education for all – and not just stroppy and hard-to-teach school students.

But it would be a desperate shame if the schools-based part of the project were to fail because of apathy, lack of resources – and the absence of unity among key players in the sector. Our school kids, and wider society more generally, deserve better than that.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at



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There are 17 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. The main problem in today’s schools is lack of any powers to enforce discipline. If a teacher tells a pupil to shut up and sit down, said pupil can say to the teacher whatever he likes and there’s nothing the teacher can do about it. Maybe bringing back corporal punishment is the only way.

  2. Teachers also fear the parents of disruptive children turning up at the school and giving them grief for daring to tell their child what to do or how to act. Teachers have no protection from abuse either from children or from their parents. How can you enforce rules when no one cares about the consequences of breaking them.

  3. In some schools it is not possible for certain classes to actually learn anything due to disruptive pupils.
    I have a friend who teaches at a “special school” and it is a total nightmare place.

  4. “And the seed fell upon stony ground and there was no harvest”.

    How can one expect an financial education initiative to flourish in schools when the learning ethic is so obviously absent leading to the widespread low level of achievement in fundamental subjects such as the 3 R s? Nevertheless, it is worth persevering with any form of education that might just prepare pupils to become better citizens in the future. .

  5. I did a six week training course on basic economics at a local school for Young Enterprise. Some of kids in class were a nightmare from start to finish and I felt really sorry for the ones that actually wanted to learn something. When I asked senior staff why they allowed this to happen their response was breath-taking. They couldn’t discriminate against any pupil as that would go against them in future inspections. The good kids who looked like they wanted to learn something are in my opinion the victims of this policy as their learning environment isn’t helping them at all. I finished the six weeks on principle but would never get involved again. God knows what teachers are having to put up with on a daily basis.

  6. For goodness sake Nic are you suggesting that IFA’s (through some of the MAS budget) and other interested/connected parties help fund another quango to teach financial education in schools. Don’t you think it would be more appropriate for kids to learn to read & write first and leave school with some qualifications. This should be the goal of the nations education system funded by the taxpayer. A basic grasp of arithmetic will help pupils understand percentages & interest rates and would serve them well.
    I would also agree that discipline remains a big problem leading to class disruption – following your line of thinking I assume you feel that lawyers should start funding a quango to instil the benefits of good behaviour?

  7. I think others have covered some of the points.
    1. Education per se in most State Schools is pathetic. Every year 23,000 children leave school at 16 with no qualifications or a single GCSE pass. So forget financial education – the 3 R’s are the first priority.
    2. Discipline is poor for 3 main reasons in my opinion.
    a) No Corporal punishment. Anyone over 45 today went through that regime and in general they are better educated than those who came after.
    b) The abolition of Grammar Schools didn’t provide an aspirational path. Who bothers to make an effort when you all end up in the same dross?
    c) Expulsion is no longer a sanction which shames the hooligans. There should be sink schools run by ex-army or prison warders and run on military lines for boarders only. That may well frighten many sufficiently to ensure some reasonable behaviour in ordinary schools.
    Recactionary? Col. Blimp? Maybe, but the modern stupid ineffective PC world is patently not working.
    What is so wrong that those who want to learn and get on are disadvantaged by the hooligans, who in effect bring the overall standards down.

  8. I am a little surprised that the comments relating to an article about introducing Financial Education into the curriculum has resulted in calls for the return of corporal punishment!

    Not sure the point of the article relates to the standard of teaching or they school system…. perhaps not the most useful comments I’ve read within MM

  9. I would agree with PJ, the comment here have gone well away from what the article is about, however I think Nic should realise that what he watched was a television programme. Having many years ago been involved with a similar youth based TV production it should be realised that the makers are not interested in much of what really happens, only what will make controversial television. Programmes such as this are not “reality” TV, only a very prejudiced part of reality. I watched this as well and soon realised this is only reality through the producers eyes.

    Having said that and getting back to the real subject of the article, yes there should be some basic financial education for all pupils, I do agree with Nic that here is an opportunity for MAS to do something sensible with the millions they get. However we also need to realise that there is enormous pressure on schools in respect of time in the curriculum and of course getting up the league tables. Financial education does not help in either area.

    Sorry Harry, corporal punishment is a thing of the past – thank goodness, but I do agree about Grammar Schools.

  10. PJ
    To explain. Nic’s article started with a reflection of the chaos prevalent in many state schools. This reflects the lack of learning and the consequent poor standards. This in turn poses the question – shouldn’t schools concentrate on the basics – which evidently are so sadly lacking.

    As far as the chaos in the classroom is concerned this can, in the opinion of some, be addressed if only the little dears weren’t so precious and could receive a sound swipe on their little botties. It seems in our daft world it is perfectly OK for a pupil to assault a teacher and get away with a verbal admonition.

    I’m surprised this needed spelling out.

  11. I have given an annual talk to sixth formers (or whatever they are called now) at a local comprehensive on financial planning. During a discussion of IHT I raised the issue of an old person in London sitting on a house valued at say £1M and wanting to pass it to the children. One astute pupil raised his hand and said “What about Equity Release?”. You can’t fault that!

    I think it’s good to get in front of children at that early age and raise the issue of real financial planning. They may not be really interested but make it lively and the image will stay in their heads (I hope!).

    I am going to refrain from comment on the general state of our schools and the standards of teachers!

  12. Nic,
    The key to engaging kids is for kids to teach kids. If you would like to see how we do it. Here at the Academy, we have worked with schools since 2012, before Financial Education was part of the National Curriculum. As we were originally based in Chorley, Lancashire, we were only too pleased to be able to support Brian Souter and his team at Southlands High School with their money diaries programme. See BBC
    Also what is taught is important. Money itself is not important, it’s what you do with it. Today, the best financial planners always plan their clients before they plan their money. The same principles apply to financial education. The banks can’t deliver this to their own customers, so I don’t see how they can train kids. Organisations do exist that are addressing the issue.

  13. this is our contribution, It is not aimed at FS professionals but the general public. Our accountant gave us the biggest praise when she said that she loved it so much that she showed her children. We feel that we have a duty to put something back and that better educated customers should equate to improved and more understandable advice conversations and therefore better outcomes. Early stages and we fully expect not to get everything right from the start but we have big plans and will keep trying at least until financial education in the classroom makes our efforts redundant.

  14. There was a brilliant comedy made in NZ called 7 periods with Mr Grimsby, very unpolitically correct….

  15. Harry, once again you manage to turn your comment into a rant about punishment in schools…

    I think the main point of the article is to highlight the state/quality of financial education within schools rather than highlighting the need to give teachers the powers to hit/punish children – whatever the right or wrongs of that particular debate I don’t think that it is for pages of a financial trade magazine.

    I guess on this we will have to agree to disagree.

  16. There is nothing like corporal punishment for turning an unruly child into an unruly, angry child who has been taught that violence is the automatic solution to all problems.

    And if we are talking about the chaotic sink schools you see on the television, there is a rule about not bringing a cane to a knifefight.

    Harry’s comment about grammar schools is spot on, though.

    As for the main point of the article, financial education is fundamentally the responsibility of the parents. They control the child’s access to money, they are able to open the child’s first bank account, they can explain when the payday loan adverts come on the telly why the cutesy puppets are not to be trusted.

    Obviously, not all children are lucky enough to have financially literatre parents, and it is right that we should try to educate the rest. However, there is only so much you can do. Most teachers I have known are the last person I would trust to tell kids how to manage their finances.

    Too often we see the education system as the automatic solution to cover the failings of parents, because it’s easier either to blame teachers (if you’re right-wing) or chuck money at them (if you’re left-wing) than confront the real issue. We keep hearing about what a disgrace it is that kids at school can’t read and write. They should already be able to read and write when they reach school at age 5. If the parents are too lazy to do something as basic as read with their children there is only so much the rest of us can do to compensate.

  17. Teach kids the basic principle that you want compound interest working for you and not against you, and you’ll be halfway there!

    There is way too much reliance on HP/finance credit cards and precious little saving.

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