/ Money, Parenting

Make financial education compulsory in schools

Child counting money

Last week Martin Lewis launched an e-petition to make financial education compulsory on the school curriculum. I’m pleased Which? is supporting him – my own financial knowledge, even now, leaves a lot to be desired.

When I was at school we had a bank. It was run by students, with the help of one of the larger banks, and you could open real accounts and deposit real money. There weren’t any safes or tills – the whole thing was run out of the food technology classroom.

It was a great idea at the time, but problems with our financial understanding won’t be fixed by tiny initiatives like this.

By the time I left college I understood just enough to get a good student bank account. I knew it offered an interest-free overdraft (probably good) and that I could get a credit card if I wanted (probably bad). But my understanding of debt in general was woefully poor.

Carrying the burden

At university I was extremely lucky – I never had problems getting summer work or part-time jobs, so I didn’t end up with too much debt. But I have friends who racked up thousands of pounds on cards that some are still struggling to pay off.

And now, as a real grown-up, I have mortgage debt as well as credit cards and I’ve been mis-sold a completely inappropriate loan (thankfully now paid off). The problem is that often the only detailed information you get on these products comes straight from the salesperson’s mouth – how are we, as individuals, going to get the grounding we need to ensure that we can call them out when they sell us rubbish deals?

Make it compulsory

That’s why I’m delighted that Which? is supporting Martin Lewis’ e-petition to get financial education made a compulsory part of the school curriculum. With proper education about finance, we could make sure that the next generation of adults not only avoids pointless debt but understands how to hold companies to account for shoddy deals, mis-selling and crippling interest rates.

Here’s what Martin said:

‘It’s a national disgrace that for 20 years we’ve educated our youth into debt when they go to university but never about debt. It’s no surprise we’re a massively indebted nation, with much of the population financially illiterate, and victims of almost constant mis-selling.

‘The easy and cheap solution of this is to ensure every child gets some basic personal and consumer finance education. Some schools already do it, most don’t. Head teachers can’t prioritise it because it isn’t a compulsory part of the curriculum. This needs to change – we’re not talking huge hours adding to teachers’ workload, just ensuring it happens.

‘This is one of the few areas banks, companies and consumer groups agree – as do 97% of the population – the problem is, the government won’t do anything about it. By using the new e-petitions system we hope to force them by getting 100,000 signatures. I’m frankly overjoyed to have the weight and authority of Which? backing this too – it means a huge amount.’

So, what do you think? Would you like to see all children and young people getting educated about finance at school? Sign the e-petition if you want to show your support, and let us know what you think below.


Sounds like a good idea and great that Which? is supporting it.

When I was at school I was taught Greek mythology and I remember thinking that this might not be useful in later life. If I had learned anything, it might have helped me to answer questions on University Challenge, but not much more.

Most of us need up-to-date financial education, and making a start in schools is long overdue.


I disagree on this issue.
The reason personal debts are at record levels is a combination of factors of course. Martin Lewis states “97% of the population agrees” – this is as per his usual standard of journalistic rubbish. he’s found another way to aid his own company’s self promotion, that itself is hidden from public view and scrutiny.

Personal debt is down to government’s policies and a complete lack of regulation.
As much as I loathe banks for their charges and blatent profiteering at the expense of customers, using at best, questionable methods, I cannot blame the banks as they are operating under a set of rules and a regulator that openly encourage them to do so, by not enforcing laws already in place with legal precedent to call upon. Banks are a business and will push all legislation to its limits to obtain profits.

Most people I speak to, are financially literate. They know they have to pay it back. Many younger people simply don’t care about debt, as long as it doesn’t affect their lifestyles, they will continue to borrow, they are enjoying life.
When I left school, (Early 80s) overdrafts were like gold dust, mortgages were hard to come by with strict criteria on lending, I didn’t know anyone with a credit card.
Now millions have them, the banks increased balances on them because regulation allowed them to, regulators didn’t stop them so they carried on.

There are many millions of people who do not use them, do not overstretch themselves, who are financially literate.
If the UK wants to move away from personal debt, then regulators should start doing their job!
In all areas of personal finance, pensions, mortgages, credit cards, etc, those regulators – who receive millions of taxpayer’s money each year – need to step up and pull their fingers out.

There are those that say if regulators get strict and enforce rules/laws, it could cost jobs, see businesses close, etc, well tough!
It would only take a couple of legal cases and the majority of the industry would stop doing it.
It is no coincidence that in the UK we have record levels of personal debt at the same time as it is easy to get credit/loans/overdrafts, when mis-selling has been found, it is down to the individual and takes an age to have the money paid back/laws enforced.

By all means teach in schools about the value of saving and encourage children to do so, but how would it be regulated?
What criteria would be used?
How do we stop banks (read businesses) exploiting their position?
How would we know that the correct advice is being given?
How much would all this cost taxpayers?

I cannot see a bank going into a school and teaching our children about bank accounts and how they work, when that same bank is manipulating accounts to increase the amount of charges they can make on it (with unenforceable charges under common law).
How will children/parents react when a bank goes into schools to teach children on the virtues of financial management, when that same bank has just forced through a charging order on to the parent’s home and called for the sale of their home to pay a credit card debt which that very same bank has on its books?

The elected government and the people rule this country, it’s time the regulators started acting in a way that reflects this before they are scrapped altogether!


Hi frugal ways – I think you raise a lot of really important points, particularly on the nature of regulation. You’re right that we can’t expect better financial education to solve all of the issues, and it’s extremely important that we also work towards making sure that all banks treat their customers fairly.

I don’t agree that most are financially literate. Yes, most people have a rough idea of what a credit card is (likewise loans, mortgages, etc) but there does seem to be a real gap in people’s education about the issues surrounding all of these things. I think a proper financial education curriculum wouldn’t just be about teaching the students about specific products, but rather making sure that they understood concepts of debt, credit, contracts, fixed term deals, etc.

In terms of banks coming into schools – I think maybe this was down to confusion about my convo (sorry if it wasn’t clear) – the bank example was just a story about my own financial education – I was trying to think back to what I was taught about finance in school, and I think that it was limited mainly to some intro sessions we were given when the bank came in. However, a proper financial education curriculum wouldn’t be an excuse to get banks in schools talking about their products – I imagine it would be much like other curricula – taught by the teachers themselves.

So I think some of your questions e.g. ‘how would it be regulated?’ ‘what criteria would be used?’ etc would be answered when the curriculum was being developed – much as these checks are done for maths, science, geography, etc courses that are run at the moment.

So yes, I think there are obviously details that would be addressed in the development, but on the whole I think it’s a fantastic idea – the more we learn about money-management and finance when we’re younger, the less likely we are to make financial mistakes. However I completely agree with you that this has to go hand-in-hand with sensible regulation of the banking industry, as well as proper checks and balances (e.g. ombudsman with robust powers) to deal with banks that misbehave.


There is definately a role for parents here. Even then, the limits of what can be done is limited as its the individual’s choice to borrow/spend etc.

Financially literate – I cannot see how the concepts around products can be taught.
As an example, look at payment protection insurance.
The regulation and enforcement of it, are a complete shambles.
People who have PPI have recently found that it must have been sold as a stand alone product and not included in the loan (for example) years this has been sold this way, regulation/laws not enforced.
So people can seek redress via the FOS and/or the small claims court – different rules and outcomes apply to each course of action.
A cancellation fee is said not to be present on sign up to the PPI policy, if one exists, in a small claims this is deemed to be proof of mis-selling, but to the FOS, it can be overlooked if the ombudsman deems it to be “not a significant amount”

Until we get the basics of regulation consistent and enforced, so that everyone knows what’s going on, then I cannot see how it can be taught in schools.
Imagine the mess if a 16 year old is taught how PPI works in school and 8 months later takes out a policy which he later discovers, he was given the incorrect information at school. Could he bring a legal case against the school/authority?
Ironic, we are bailing banks out and covering their backs by securing their losses and overstretching, now we taxpayers are expected to fund yet more teacher training through our taxes, which will no doubt be done at some stage by banks “getting involved” – not to mention yet more workload adding to a curriculum thats already over loaded.

I wouldn’t welcome any contribution from any bank as regards teaching my child. I myself do not have a bank account.
My children’s financial competance is down to my wife and I as parents, even then we can only advise and warn of pitfalls and charges etc, they may come up against.
At the end of, it is down to them.

Scott Sullivan says:
15 August 2011

I have just been speaking to my Wife who is a Teacher in a Secondary School.

She has told me that personal finance is currently taught as part of the Citizenship module of PSHRE (Personal Social Health and Religious Education). This is called different things in different schools but many schools offer something similar.

She acknowledged that personal finance may not get taught in the depth we would like but there is certainly room to expand this without affecting the rest of the curriculum. She has also suggested that basic economics could be covered as modules in other subjects such as Maths and Geography.

There is, therefore, no excuse for not better educating our kids about this.

Pennysmart CIC says:
15 August 2011

I fully support any campaign to teach more financial education in schools, yes we may be a bit biased, we are a non-profit social enterprise working in the community, and there are plenty of organisations like ours only too willing to either go into schools to teach FE (from an impartial stand point), or to train teachers to deliver money education. We find the pupils are very eager to learn about budgeting, shopping around for the best bank accounts, making wise lending decisions (reading the small print), setting money aside for the future and where to go for the best free and impartial advice if you do get into difficulties with money. Most 16-18 yr olds know all about wonga.com – but little about citizens advice services! Our biggest struggle is to manage to get a slot on what is a packed PHSE curriculum for students, often schools are keen but there is simply not enough time to allocate to money education, sometimes we are lucky if we can secure a 30 min slot with some schools.

Phil says:
15 August 2011

No good trying to teach children how to handle their finances until they’ve mastered basic numeracy. Over a third don’t.


excellent point Phil

16 August 2011

La educaciòn financiera es indispensable. El endeudamiento financiero en los jòvenes es como el consumo de la droga: HAY QUE EVITARLO!!! los jòvenes se endeudan facilmente, no tienen metas a corto plazo ni a largo plazo, viven del dia dia.
Hay que enseñar como se maneja una tarjeta de crèdito y decirles para que casos se deben usar, al igual que los crèditos, enseñarles a realizar un presupuesto, como pueden vivir sin presupuestar sus ingresos?
Estoy de acuerdo que la instrucciòn en los colegios no deben darla los bancos, por cuanto serìa ilògico que un banco no dictara la charla para vender algùn producto que le interese, NO HAY NADA GRATIS EN LA VIDA, estos talleres deben dictarlos personas independientes de acuerdo a un temario aprobado por el gobierno, por cuanto el taller es netamente imparcial y pueden existir experiencias de los educadores.

Saludos desde Colombia.

[Hello ENSEFIN – here is our attempt at an English translation of your comment, we’re sorry if it’s not entirely accurate. Usually we only allow comments written in the English language. If you can’t write in English, try and include a translation (by using Google Translate). Thanks, mods.]

Financial education is essential. Financial debt among young people is like drug use: AVOID IT! Young people easily fall into debt, they have short-term goals and live day by day.

Teach how to manage their credit card and say that cases should be used, like the credits. And teach how to make a budget – a budget you can live within your income?

I agree that instruction in schools should not be given by the banks, because it would be illogical for a bank simply talks to sell a product that interests you, THERE IS NOTHING FREE IN LIFE, these workshops should dictate separate people according an agenda approved by the government, because the workshop is clearly impartial and there may be experiences of educators.

Greetings from Colombia.


We were discussing this in the office yesterday and a colleague suggested using real-world personal finance examples in Maths classes, rather than introducing a whole slot for financial education.

As Scott mentioned earlier there are spaces in the current curriculum where these examples could fit in- like working out interest rates on loans when learning about percentages, perhaps even in English when learning at GCSE level about persuasive writing, examples from the financial advertising world could be introduced to arm young people better for the bombardment of credit adverts they will be targeted with in later life.

But to be honest, having to learn about the trials and tribulations of financial services at such a young age would not have been my idea of a good day at school.

The ideal would be that people could manage their finances well as long as they have numeracy skills – if financial institutions played fair and designed more products with people’s needs and not just profit in mind, with transparent prices, clearly laid out risks, and T&Cs that can be understood by everyone (not just those with a first class law degree!), then we’d all stand more chance of survival against the banking giants.


I tend to agree that real examples would work best. Personally, I’ve only really learnt about personal finance matters through having to deal with them as I’ve gone through life! It’s hard to comprehend how savings, mortgages etc affect you from a textbook.

That said, I think there are opportunities to better equip children/teenagers for their financial future, but there would need to be lots of imagination in the way it’s taught!


Agree 100%

My Mum is a company secretary and has constantly been on at me to sort out my finances. It took a few years but I got there in the end, by way of finally paying off my debts.

I basically learned the hard way. I used to buy everything on credit card/overdraft and then the bank would ring me up to offer me another consolidation loan etc etc. My car would then break down/blow up and I would be at square one again.

So to save cash, I started to buy bangers for about £800 and just run them for 2 years and sell for £500 without servicing it. This helped me keep costs down until I paid off all my loans.

Now, I will not buy anything unless I can afford it outright. I guess my girlfriend has helped influence me here but it was an older girlfriend who had a completely different picture who almost encouraged me to go into debt in the first place. Women eh? go for the clever ones 😀

Emma Bryn-Jones says:
17 August 2011

Where is your, or indeed Martin’s, evidence for widespread financial incapability? Not even the BIS and FSA policy, research and strategy documents for the last decade claim this and some of their data are questionable.

Granted, the Thoresen Report stated that 75% of people said they would use a generic advice service. Yet, when consumers self-report financial burden, this is considered too subjective to be reliable.

There were almost 28,000 mortgage products on the market in 2007, which had dropped to just over 2000 by 2009. You are right that any Financial Education proposal needs to be accompanied by regulation, but it also demands very serious consideration of what we require its outcomes to be, not to mention how, when, where and by whom it should be delivered.

Less armchair educationalists, please. Most are the very people confounded by an inflated financial services market. Heaven forbid we hand down such misconceptions to our youth.


Good question Emma as it’s a hard thing to measure. The FSA did a baseline study in 2006 and came up with some interesting findings to suggest financial incapability is a big problem. Stats like:

• 70% of people have made no personal provision to cover an unexpected drop in income.
• Of the 1.5 million who say they are falling behind with bills or credit commitments, one third say they have real financial problems. Almost three million more people (or two million households) say it is a constant struggle to keep up with commitments.
• 33% of people, who hold no more complex products than general insurance, bought their policy without comparing it to even one other product.
• 40% of people who own an equity ISA are not aware that its value fluctuates with stock market performance, and 15% of people who own a cash ISA think its value does

Some of the findings showed however that financial capability is not something you can teach, but instead is something you have to learn through experience. Getting that experience is a minefield though with so many poor financial products around, should people be left to trial and error if the result is getting into dangerous a cycle of debt?

You can see the full report here: http://www.fsa.gov.uk/pubs/consumer-research/crpr47.pdf

Emma Bryn-Jones says:
17 August 2011

The entire stock of FSA financial capability research, policy and strategy development was analysed in the report link I gave you. Perhaps you need to look at the most recent ISER analyses of the BHPS surveys for the FSA, Or indeed the LSE’s comments to the FSA about delivering the financial capability strategy?

I note you add that “financial capability is not something you can teach”. In point of fact, higher order thinking is teachable using active engagement and deductive strategies, but these require significant teaching time and resources, which are unlikely to be forthcoming in the current climate. Consider the Big Lottery Fund for Improving Financial Confidence – it focuses predominantly on inner city areas. So only the urban poor are financially incapable?!

Moreover, the petition states that introducing Fin Ed to the curriculum will not erode other subject time, despite being unclear as to whether Fin Ed should be taught as part of numeracy, Citizenship or PSHE. If you are at all familiar with school curricula, you will be aware that some deliver Citizenship and or PSHE through specialist staff and others use class teachers of any subject to include it during pastoral / extended form time. Are you quite sure that generalists are equipped to deliver Fin Ed? Are you quite sure that they are confident in delivering it? Such as MyBnk, which does outstanding work, is highly unlikely to agree.

Martin is absolutely right that Fin Ed should not be left to the banks coming in to deliver a box ticking exercise aimed at generating student accounts. However, this is and will continue to be the reality, if we do not specify learning outcomes and delivery methods first. You might also like to check the specification and teaching resource partners in the Edexcel BTEC, for instance and tell me this is truly independent. To advocate a petition without the slightest idea of how to deliver it is dangerous indeed.


Martin does a great deal in relation to finance matters-I’ve been getting his weekly emails since they first started, and have found they are a good ancillary “weapon” in the fight for fairness and controlling costs.
“Which” and Martin together make a formidable combination.

PWDM says:
17 August 2011

According to The Economist figures, when Government debt, financial services/bank debt, corporate debt and private debt are added together the total is 470% compared to UK Gross Domestic Product…by far the higest in the world ! At some stage these debts will have to be paid down.
It is not only children who need educating.
Clearly governments need to be more realistic in the promises made to the electorate, the financial industry needs tighter regulation re it gambling/selling, companies need to be less leveraged, and private individuals need to live within theri means. The UK’s world beating debt record will need to be addressed if the UK is not to continue to decline in the future.
Interventions at ALL levels are needed.
I would support greater emphasis on numeracy and financial literacy in schools but it needs to be within the context of what the country realistically can afford.

Antrich says:
17 August 2011

A short course in the fundamentals of accounting is, in my humble opinion, absolutely essential. We have a growing number of people who seem to think that money is manufactured as the then Government of the day thinks fit. They have no idea of where the Government gets it’s money, nor do they understand that when the safe is empty, you can’t take anything out of it. All that they seem to understand is that they have five pounds in their pocket on that day and that they can spend it ignoring the fact that five pounds has to last them three days and buy all their meals.

It has always appeared to me that we, as a Society, talk well above the heads of the majority of the Public. Perhaps if we all talked at their level they would soon pick up on what our real problems are and work with us. I really can’t see that the FSA severs any useful purpose at all. It also appears to me that our Banks appear to be out to encourage some gullible people to take out loans or overdrafts that they cannot afford.

John says:
18 August 2011

I have to admit i’m with the sceptics here. Although I fully support the idea that financial education should be taught in schools, i’m not sure it should be a separate course. As a few people have mentioned financial education is part of the modern equivalent of P.S.E, as it was known when I went to school.
In fact, financial education could very easily be taught in a maths class. All that would need to change is make the subject more example based. For example – if you take out a loan of £5000 at 5% APR and pay it back over 2 years how much would it cost in interest and what would the monthly repayments be? If you break it down its relatively just simple maths, we just haven’t been taught to think about it in this way.

alan beeson says:
18 August 2011

Nice idea – but I’m sceptical that HMG will implement this because if Britain was a financially educated nation the government would not be able to fool most of the people most of the time with
– negative real interest rates
– using inflation to default on it’s lenders
– off balance sheet accounting in the national accounts
– currency speculation
– disguised tax rates
– making false claims about the health of the UK economy etc., etc.


I think most people are in agreement about the need to educate youngsters to provide them with, not only numeracy skills, but financial awareness also. It is sad that we witness such a wide range of ability in this topic within our society. Many leave education (or have long since left it) with little or no numeracy ability, whilst at the other extreme there are those with good quality degrees in maths, quantum physics etc, who might still have insufficient understanding of finance.

I would have thought that financial awareness and understanding would be more important to everyone at an early stage before moving on to advanced mathematical principles. After all, none of us can really escape the impact of financial matters, whereas only a minute percentage of people ever use algebra or quadratic equations after leaving school.

Whilst I believe that financial responsibility is something we must all take upon ourselves, the financial institutions also have a responsibility to ensure that they do not encourage unmanageable debt – not just to protect the individual, but to safeguard the interests of all stakeholders. Past uncontrolled lending (and individuals’ borrowing) has helped to fuel house price rises, as well as a “must have now” society – and we are all paying for it now.


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I think that it is essential that financial education should be taught in schools. The suggestion that it shold be included with maths is a good one. It’s a pity that Gordon Brown did not know that one must not live beyond obe’s means. This applies to governmentsand and banks as well as to households and it’s non-observance is the principal reason that so many countries, as well as ourselves, are in the financial mess that we are in today.


I do think that some finanincial education would be useful, as it is no good hoping that parents will educate their children as in many cases they need financial education themselves. As I am quite old I remember when one had to have a deposit to buy anything on hire purchase and the government regulated how much this should be. If the amount one had to repay on credit card and overdafts per month was set at say 10% then problems should be reduced. At the moment credit card companies ask for a mnimum payment of 1%, which with the interest rates many charge has the debt increasing month by month. At 10% there should be a reduction and it would bring home to people how much credit cost.

Mrs Bridgwater says:
21 August 2011

The fact that only 37,327 people out of 6 million asked to sign have done so tells you what the public support for this petition is. Has Which? actually looked at the so called teaching materials that moneysavingexpert publishes? How is the following example taken from mse’s website anything but a thinly disguised sales leaflet to drum up future business for what is an OFT licensed credit broker?

“MSE The Teen Cash Class Credit Card Challenge

This was the challenge my cash class found the most difficult, but also the most
enjoyable. Here’s a real life scenario… what’s the best deal you can come up with?

You have £2,500 on a Barclaycard at 16% interest, and have done for a few
years. You also need to borrow £1,000 for stuff for a new home. What’s the best
credit card solution you can come up with?

What’s the answer?
Credit card deals change all the time, so it depends on when you do this. Yet the
process of comparing credit cards to try and find the winning deal is the best lesson
possible. Here are some hints.
• All cards aren’t the same. While they’re the same shape and size, the rates and
deals on credit cards differ massively; after all 50 Cent and the Cheeky Girls both sell
records, but they’re certainly not the same. So ensure you read the small print and
check exactly what the terms are.
• They’re a tool, not an accessory. Don’t ever be drawn into picking a credit card for
its colour or design, and forget gimmicks or cards linked to football teams or funky
stores. These are ways to draw you in. Always compare cards based on which is best
financially for you.
• There’s more than one interest rate. One card may have a number of different
interest rates. The two main ones are for ‘purchases’ – for new spending on the card
– and ‘balance transfers’ which is a special offer if you move debt from a previous
credit card to it (now read the challenge again and try to spot which is which).
• It’s not about getting ‘one card’. Don’t assume that you’re looking for one
credit card, the cash class winners were actually the ones who realised they needed
two cards: one for the cheapest purchases debt and one for the cheapest balance
transfers. There’s no ‘one-size-fits all deal.”

Called me old fashioned but the nonchalant way in which a credit broker sets the bar for real life as having had £2,500 on a Barclaycard at 16% interest for a few years and you need to borrow £1,000 for stuff for a new home so kerching MSE’s answer is a few more credit cards is not what I would want any child taught. It’s an absolute disgrace and deeply depressing that Which? is supporting this petition.


May I point out that at my school in the 1970s we taught Everyday Arithmetic including finances and budgeting until Maggie introduced the National Curriculum where such topics were not included. I really do think this topic is misdirected.

We are now told state pensions ” are not sustainable” – so why didn’t all previous government’s financial departments notice since 1944?? It is not just present students lacking in financial abilities.

The reason for the “credit crunch” was a unsustainable mortgage system – loaning to those who couldn’t afford it worldwide. The banks were useless at financial management. – the other name for it is called greed.

The reason we had financial stability in the past was not education (or lack of it) but the new unrealistic cultural aspirations – mostly instigated by Thatcher .- not controlled enough by Labour – The financial problems are recent due to world financial inadequacies. My experience of secondary teaching showed the average child was perfectly capable of financial management – but the financial establishment is incapable of acting honestly.

It has always been the case that roughly 25% of children lack the numeric skills to be classed as numerate – It made little difference to them until unachievable goals were presented falsely as achievable by all.- so they then borrowed encouraged by banks to achieve the unachievable. It has never been the case that all can own houses – it is a myth supported by banks or mortgage companies.in very recent times since Thatcher, When I bought my house most people rented locally and were satisfied with their lot – because I had a well paid job I could afford one but most could not.

In addition most people SAVED BEFORE buying items – now many people BORROW beyound their means encouraged by greedy loan sharks (AKA Banks) – The Buy now – pay later regime.- It is not financial education in schools we need – but restrictictions on irresponsible lending.


As someone who has been useless with money all my life I wish I had had financial education at school, surely it is as important as any other subect (it affects every aspect of your life) and if learnt at young age would hopefully become second nature by the time a child leaves school or starts work?