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Financial Education at Crossroads: MPs Demand Change – Sector Reaction

Financial Education at Crossroads MPs Demand Change

Ten years after financial education was added to the national curriculum, a new Education Committee report calls on the Government to bolster the subject in primary and secondary schools and at post-16 level.

Widely supported by politicians of all parties, as well as financial institutions, academics, trade unions and campaigners such as broadcaster Martin Lewis, financial education gives pupils knowledge to make decisions with their money. It can cover a wide range of skills from reading a payslip, understanding the impact of money on relationships, awareness of online scams and judging financial risks.

The cross-party Committee’s report makes recommendations to the Department for Education (DfE) on: expanding financial education at primary school level; encouraging schools to appoint financial education coordinators; improving access to quality learning materials; and how the subject could become a key component of the Government’s proposal for all 16-18-year-olds to study maths.

Financial education has formally been part of the national curriculum since 2014, meaning it is required to be taught in local authority-run schools as part of the maths curriculum at primary and secondary level, and through citizenship studies from ages 11-16. Schools also have the option to include it in personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE). The Committee heard that many schools find it hard to prioritise areas of financial education beyond basic concepts such as calculations using money and that despite it having been part of the curriculum for over a decade, many teachers lack confidence in delivering its content.

Education Committee Chair Robin Walker MP said:

“Evidence we received was unanimous on two central points. Providing children with a financial education that is comprehensive and age appropriate is essential. Secondly, a decade since it was introduced with broad support, financial education in England needs an urgent update that takes account of how the schools sector, financial pressures on children and consumer habits have changed. There is cross-party support for delivering financial education in schools but it hasn’t yet reached its full potential.

“Since the Prime Minister set out his ambitions for ‘maths to 18’, there is an opportunity to bolster financial education and embed it in the maths curriculum, both as a core part of the proposals for the Advanced British Standard, and as a more accessible, practical alternative for those who wouldn’t choose the equivalent of a maths A level. The period just before students enter the world of work and face key decisions around student debt and accommodation is a vital one for financial education but currently a space where there is no requirement for it.

“We also heard a strong backing case for starting financial education at primary school when pupils start to understand the concepts of managing money, and because young children need educating about the financial risks and pressures they are being exposed to online from an early age.

“There is a compelling case for including different elements of financial education across citizenship, PSHE and maths in secondary school, owing to its relevance in so many facets of our lives. But schools also need support to deliver it effectively. That’s why we recommend that schools appoint a financial education coordinator to ensure coherence across the three subjects. DfE should provide guidance to help schools navigate the patchwork of educational materials to choose from, and there needs to be enhanced training for new teachers and their senior colleagues, including career development opportunities.

“The Government should take pride in having introduced financial education into the national curriculum, and with that in mind, we recommend that England and each of the devolved administrations should take part in the PISA surveys on financial education going forward so we can benchmark our performance in such an important area against our peers.”

Financial Education ‘should begin early’

Experts told the Committee that effective financial education should begin early to adequately prepare children for the fast-changing financial world in which they increasingly participate.

Through the Committee’s screen time inquiry we have heard that young children are increasingly being exposed to apps that require subscriptions, financial pressures and adverts for get rich quick schemes. MPs conclude that building a strong foundation for financial education at primary school would also ensure that, as children develop their cognitive abilities and a sense of delayed gratification, they will do so informed by good financial practice.

Financial education in the maths curriculum

A 2023 survey of 4,000 young adults by Compare the Market and MyBnk found that 61% had no memory of receiving financial education in secondary school. Martin Lewis told the Committee that campaigns to get financial education onto the national curriculum in secondary schools proved to be a “pyrrhic victory”. He said its inclusion in the national curriculum lost relevance as free schools and academies don’t have to follow it, and criticised a lack of appropriate resources.

The report recommends the Government urgently reviews the contents of the maths curriculum from primary to GCSEs to expand the provision and relevance of financial education at primary and secondary levels. This need not require a re-drawing of the national curriculum as a whole but could be achieved through enriching maths with financial knowledge. This must happen to ensure young people at every level are developing financial literacy as a fundamental part of their mathematical knowledge and fluency.

Post-16 financial education

In April 2023, the Prime Minister outlined proposals for all 16-18 year-olds to study a form of maths. These proposals, currently under consultation, entail replacing A levels with a baccalaureate-style Advanced British Standard.

The majority of students in that age bracket currently do not study maths. The report recommends that financial education must be included in any plans for compulsory maths to 18 as a fundamental part of the curriculum. However, given current struggles to recruit and retain specialist maths teachers, DfE should redouble its focus on this if its ambitions are to be met. Further recommendations on teacher recruitment retention were made in the Committee’s recent report on the subject.

DfE should explore means of increasing the take up of core mathematics and functional skills courses, as a more accessible form of post-16 maths study. It should also consider opportunities for a specific qualification in financial literacy which could fit into the Advanced British Standard as a minor subject, and allow for opportunities for progression for students who may not be able to take A level maths but show an interest or aptitude in improving their financial knowledge. 

Financial education in PSHE and citizenship

In the non-statutory citizenship curriculum at key stages 1 and 2, pupils learn that money comes from different sources and can be used for different purposes. When citizenship becomes a statutory subject at key stages 3 and 4, pupils learn the functions and uses of money, the importance and practice of budgeting and managing risk. 

Schools can teach additional financial education content in PSHE if they wish. But unlike the PSHE content on relationships, sex and health, financial education is not a statutory element of PSHE at any key stage.

However, recent changes to aspects of PSHE education provide the Government with a legislative mechanism to expand financial education. Section 35 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring schools in England to teach other aspects of PSHE education. The report urges the Secretary of State to make regulations using powers under section 35 of the Act, to provide for the personal and societal elements of financial education to be taught compulsorily in schools.

Coordinating of financial education across subjects

A cross-curricular approach in which aspects of financial education are taught in various subjects helps pupils to understand its relevance in different contexts, MPs conclude. To ensure coherence across the subjects, MPs also recommend that each school or Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) should consider having a financial education lead, who may be a teacher of maths, PSHE or citizenship, to coordinate financial education across the school curriculum. 

The Government should produce detailed guidance for MATs, teachers and school leaders on how best to appoint and support financial education leads. It should also consider the case for providing subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) and continuing professional development (CPD) to support such a role. 

Improved teaching materials

We have heard that one of the main obstacles facing teachers of financial education is the availability of suitable teaching resources which can be accessible to different learners. Committee members were also concerned about the suitability of banks or other private organisations with a vested interest providing schools with financial education resources.

Working with subject associations, professional bodies, the Money and Pensions Service, and other government departments, DfE should curate and promote a selection of high-quality financial education teaching materials and make these easily accessible to teachers and pupils.

Teacher training and professional development

Access to training and development would improve teachers’ confidence and proficiency to deliver financial education. But a 2023 Ofsted survey of teachers found that 87% saw “workload pressures” as the biggest obstacle to career development. 73% said “availability of staff to cover my lessons”.

DfE should ensure training in financial education is available to all teachers beginning their careers through initial teacher training provision, and that continued professional development opportunities and subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) in financial education are available and accessible for all teachers. The Department should ensure appropriate financial education options are included in both the Early Career Framework and national professional qualification (NPQ) courses.

Ofsted’s role in evaluating teaching of financial education

When Ofsted assesses a school under the judgement heading of ‘quality of education’, it examines the delivery of maths, but not citizenship, which is instead inspected under ‘personal development’. This means that the substantial proportion of financial education taught in citizenship is not scrutinised to the same rigorous level as maths.

DfE should work with Ofsted to review how it can improve its evaluation of financial education. We recommend that citizenship provision be inspected under the ‘quality of education’ key judgement and personal development.

PISA financial literacy assessment

UK nations do not participate in the OECD’s PISA assessments for financial education. Schools Minister Damian Hinds told us this was to reduce the burden on teachers and because participation in the maths section of PISA was sufficient. 

The Committee does not agree that outcomes for maths education necessarily reflect performance in financial education. Participating in the financial literacy assessment would demonstrate the Government’s commitment to improving financial education in England and give the subject more prominence. We recommend that the Government applies to participate in the next PISA financial literacy assessment scheduled for 2025 and engage with the devolved administrations to encourage them to do likewise.

Photo credit: Official portrait of Mr Robin Walker, adapted for use on FE News. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via UK Parliament.

Sector Response

Pepe Di’Iasio, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“There is a good case for boosting financial education in schools, but this does need to be part of an overall review of the curriculum to get the right balance of priorities given that there are only so many hours in a day. We’re sure that schools would be keen to appoint financial education coordinators but unfortunately there isn’t enough money for their existing staffing who are already at full stretch all the time. The government’s own grounding in financial education is clearly lacking as it does not understand the necessity of providing sufficient funding to run the education system.”

Sarah Hannafin, head of policy at school leaders’ union NAHT, who gave evidence to the committee inquiry, said:

“Schools want to provide the children with a broad and balanced curriculum which prepares them for the opportunities and responsibilities of adulthood.

“Financial education is a crucial part of that as it can help protect children from the harm caused by everything from gambling and scams to in-game purchases and online exploitation. Financial wellbeing is also vital in supporting children and young people’s mental health.

“However, it can already be challenging for schools to cover the National Curriculum and qualification specifications in the time available, and this is exacerbated by government policies and high stakes accountability measures focusing on particular subjects.

“While we welcome the recommendations for improved training for teachers and support to access high-quality learning resources, any expansion of financial education in the ways suggested must be accompanied by a formal review of the curriculum and qualification offer. Currently the curriculum is overcrowded and unmanageable – the content must be reduced to create the curriculum time needed to deliver this.”

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said:

“Thanks to campaigning across the entire sector, the spotlight on further education is brighter than it’s ever been. FE has started to secure the additional funding it needs from the government, there is now recognition of the crucial role colleges have to play in their communities from the prime minister and cabinet ministers, and a seat at the table for FE leaders when major decisions are made in education and skills. “However, there is still more to be done, and I echo the case the ETF’s Further Education and Skills: Changing systems of change report makes for building a more coherent, higher trust environment within which colleges can operate, and ensuring the sector has the adequate funding that will enable us to redress the stark pay gap that exists between schools and colleges. In our recent report, 100 per cent opportunity: a case for a tertiary system, we argue that a system-wide approach to reform is needed and set out key underlying principles which could sit behind this. Today’s report underscores the broad consensus that exists across the sector here, and the commitment across the sector to taking this forward.”

Stewart Perry, Director of the Centre for Financial Capability said:

“The Centre welcomes today’s publication of the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into financial education and is delighted by the recommendation that financial education provision in the UK must be extended to primary-aged children, which is alandmark step to building a stronger financial future for children and young people across the UK.”

The Committee’s report makes the clear case that financial education is not just a concept but a critical life skill, essential to an independent adulthood. There is no doubt that there is a financial capability crisis in the UK, with aftershocks of the pandemic and continued squeezing of the cost of living crisis making the financial future of the next generation increasingly uncertain. Our research has found only 1 in 3 primary-aged children receive any form of financial education, despite money habits being formed as early as age 7. Government must implement the Committee’s inquiry recommendations as soon as possible, to give our young people the best possible chance at navigating the complex financial landscape.”

GoHenry co-founder and CEO, Louise Hill said:

“Today’s Education Select Committee findings are music to our ears. We have long campaigned for financial education to be taught in primary schools, so the Committee’s recommendation to implement this is entirely welcome. We also fully agree with making the economic and financial elements of PSHE education statutory at primary and secondary school level, which is the quickest and easiest way to expand financial education in our schools. While we support elements of financial education being incorporated into maths, true money skills focus on shaping practical behaviours that maths lessons alone can’t address.

“Given the current pressures already on teachers, we also recommend an external delivery model, similar to the Bikeability programme for cycling proficiency, as the best short-term solution. We know young people want to learn – our research shows that 84% of kids and teens would like to have more financial education in school – and it’s time for the Government to take note of these important voices and give them the practical money skills they need – and want – now.”

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