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 firstname.lastname@example.org