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Lessons in life: First victory in financial education drive

In February the government agreed to include personal finance in secondary school mathematics and citizenship lessons for the first time so that, at last, high-quality financial education will become a staple of young people’s preparations for entering adult life.

The move comes after two years of intensive campaigning by MPs and peers in the all-party parliamentary group on financial education for young people, national charity the Personal Finance Education Group and Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert.com.

The cause also had the backing of teachers, parents, young people and supporters across the financial services industry. The new curriculum will come into force in September 2014 for all maintained secondary schools in England.

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Since February we have been working closely with the department for education as the detail of the new curriculum has been refined. From our 13 years of experience of supporting teachers on the ground, we know what works. Pleasingly the government has incorporated many of our suggestions into its revised programmes of study, resulting in an improved curriculum that is of even greater benefit for young people.

So what will these changes look like and how far will they go in addressing the challenge of improving financial capability in the UK?

Pounds and pence have long been used in the classroom but in large part this has been to teach children about arithmetic, not about money. The new secondary curriculum for mathematics at key stage three (years seven, eight and nine) includes ‘financial mathematics’ with basic financial calculations and simple interest taught to 11 to 14 year olds.

At key stage four (years 10 and 11), pupils should increasingly understand the world of finance and apply their mathematic skills in this context, including more complex tasks such as calculating compound interest.

However as important as financial mathematics is it is only one side of the financial education coin. As advisers know only too well, financial decisions rarely have right or wrong answers and learning how to make sound financial decisions is critical, which is why we are pleased that personal finance will now also be taught in citizenship education for the first time.

Citizenship education is a statutory subject for 11 to 16 year olds with the aim to prepare pupils to take their place in society as responsible citizens. Thanks to the changes announced this year, this will include the teaching of skills and knowledge to manage their money well and make sound financial decisions.

It is in these citizenship lessons that young people will be taught the second, extremely important, aspect of financial education relating to money management and financial decision-making. This teaching will complement the numerical skills they will be taught in mathematics.

Budgeting

Pupils in years seven, eight and nine will learn about the functions and uses of money, the importance of budgeting and how to manage risk. The ability to set and stick to a budget is a skill that a worrying number of young people lack, and teaching it at this age will make a significant difference. Helping young people to understand how to weigh up risk and reward is another crucial area that we have successfully persuaded the department for education to include. As members of the adviser community know better than most, this is a core skill that underpins the vast majority of the financial decisions that need to be made in life.