Demystifying finance in the classroom

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Financial illiteracy is a problem for many adults. Ensuring pupils leave school confident in managing a budget, investments and pensions is crucial for the years ahead as Fionnuala Kennedy, Head of Wimbledon High School GDST, explains.

Amidst the ongoing debate about broadening curricula and ensuring students leaving school are well equipped for life beyond the school gate, we teachers need to talk more about money.

Children in Reception learn to count and handle money with toy cash registers (though that concept itself seems quite alien to all of us now!); Sixth Form discussions will cover student loans alongside UCAS applications, and, rightly, PSHE sessions may be offered about the dangers of gambling, etc. Others may have the chance to run a Young Enterprise company. But financial literacy in individuals – the very practical basics of managing a budget, of credit and debit cards, student loans, taxes, mortgages, investment and pensions – needs more consistent addressing across the school years.

Without it, the financial world is a mysterious, even mythical, place, lurching between the extremes of 'Wolf of Wall Street' excess and the 'boring' necessity of pension planning. Teenagers are not, after all, famed for their long-term thinking or awareness of consequences, and so the assumption is that personal financial responsibility is anathema to them.

Or is it? If you give the opportunity to students to ask questions about these topics in your classroom, the questions really do keep coming. They want to know for their own lives, but also for the lives of others so they can help address the social issues they identify. As campaigners for a fairer world, they know about injustice and poverty; they organise charity fairs and fundraising dress-ups. On sustainability, and awareness building around COP26, they are now aware of the possibilities of ethical investment. And so, we should be developing a curriculum to teach them about the choices they have if / when they do take out a pension, and about tax efficient giving and other basics of effective philanthropy.

Fionnuala Kennedy is Head of Wimbledon High School GDST.