Earlier this year, a Wolverhampton man got a nasty shock when he opened his credit card bill. He found that his son had unwittingly racked up debts of more than £1,000 on XBox Live, upgrading his online characters playing video games like Call of Duty.
The father’s credit card, which had been registered with XBox to pay the monthly subscription, was also charged for the upgrades. The man had little choice but to pay up and learn his lesson the hard way: you should not hand over your credit card details without reading the small print first.
Whether we can avoid this type of mishap altogether is open to debate, and XBox Live certainly does its bit to warn users when they are accessing paid-for content, but through education we can do more to prepare our children and young people for the financial realities of modern life and hopefully steer them clear of the pitfalls of debt, however it may occur.
In fact, there is a growing movement that sees personal financial education (or PFE for short) for school age children and young people as a way of nurturing a more money-savvy generation.
Certainly there is enthusiasm for PFE among young people; in a recent survey 96 per cent said that every school pupil should be taught how to manage their finances.
A group of children and young people working with the National Children’s Bureau and pfeg (the Personal Financial Education Group) want to tap into this enthusiasm to bring about change.
They have produced the Our Money, Our Future toolkit for other children and young people to help them campaign within their own schools for high-quality PFE to be taught to all pupils.
The toolkit, which was launched last week at an event in Westminster (click here to read the launch report), arrives as children and young people face challenging financial times. On leaving school young people are now faced with soaring student debt if they go to university, college without the Education Maintenance Allowance to support their costs, and rising levels of youth unemployment should they wish to get a job. Whichever path they choose, understanding how to manage money is an essential skill.
But what is PFE? Put simply, PFE gives children and young people the skills and knowledge they will need to manage their money now and in the future.
It helps them decide whether to spend or save, how to live on a budget, and make everyday financial decisions like whether to opt for a pay-as-you-go option or a contract for their mobile phone.
Whether they go on to further and higher education or straight in to the work place, PFE helps young people make the right financial choices. And because money touches almost every aspect of our lives, PFE can be woven easily into many different subjects, such as maths, PSHE, citizenship, business studies and even foreign languages.
However, it is left to each school to decide how much, or how little, PFE they teach and there is no statutory requirement to teach it in England.
Despite this, many schools have recognised the benefits of teaching their pupils about money matters and in a recent survey conducted by pfeg, 55 per cent of secondary teachers and 31 per cent of primary teachers said their school taught financial education in some form.
Most commonly it is being taught through PSHE, closely followed by maths and citizenship, with more than a third of schools teaching it across the curriculum. Once teachers have been trained to teach PFE they often become enthusiastic champions as they see how their pupils enjoy the activities and find it a highly relevant way to learn.
Pfeg chief executive Tracey Bleakley points out that although an increasing number of teachers are now embracing financial education, winning hearts and minds is not enough.
She said: “The only way to make sure that every young person enters adult life with the skills, knowledge and confidence to make financial decisions is to ensure PFE is taught in every school in the UK.”
The public appears to share this view. A recent e-petition asking for compulsory finance education – generated by Martin Lewis from the MoneySavingExpert website – collected more than 100,000 signatures and thus led to a three-hour debate on the issue in the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, MPs from all parties committed to the cause are promoting PFE through the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Financial Education for Young People.
Young people themselves are quick to grasp the significance of a subject that prepares them for the financial realities of adulthood.
A group of 12 to 17-year-olds working with Young NCB started the Get Money Savvy campaign to raise awareness about PFE and soon realised that other young people were eager for PFE to be part of their studies too.
They decided to develop the toolkit to help and advise other children about how to campaign in their own schools for the adoption of high quality financial education – and so Our Money, Our Future was born.
The toolkit introduces the basics of campaigning through seven simple “steps to success”, designed to win over school leaders and governors. It explains how children can set up a campaign group, create an action plan with clear objectives, and overcome barriers along the way.
While Our Money, Our Future is designed for use by pupils and school councils, there is also detailed information for teachers to download which advises them on how to get started with PFE and how to go about incorporating it into different subject areas, as well as lesson plans and other teaching resources.
A real-life case study of how a group of young people from Arun Youth Council in West Sussex successfully campaigned for PFE to be taught in schools in their area is included to inspire both pupils and teachers alike.
Of course the toolkit is only one of many initiatives to raise the profile of PFE, but with a broad spectrum of support for the subject, the future looks promising.
When the government publishes its review of PSHE it is hoped that politicians remember the
84 per cent of young people who believe that their school isn’t doing enough to teach them vital financial skills, and make PFE a compulsory part of every child’s education.
Further informationFor more information or to download the Our Money, Our Future toolkit, visit the Young NCB website: www.youngncb.org.uk/what_were_up_to/resources.aspx
Sophie Wood is programme manager for participation and skills at the National Children’s Bureau. Visit www.ncb.org.uk