Money: What price numeracy?

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The Independent Online
Britain's long-suffering schoolteachers will have to show children how to handle money as part of the National Curriculum to be introduced in England and Wales over the next three years. The Government is expected to endorse the introduction of money-handling skills as part of its attempt to improve financial literacy and reduce the burden on the state of supporting the improvident poor.

The Financial Services Authority will also sponsor education as part of its fourfold objectives, the others being strengthening confidence in financial markets, protecting consumers of financial services and preventing fraud and financial crime. It will be able to collect the funds it needs by imposing levies on the suppliers of financial services.

But according to the FSA's chairman, Howard Davies, neither the Government nor the FSA are about to throw money at the initiative. And the real problem is that virtually all the experts in money management work in the financial industry and have a vested interest in promoting their own wares.

Schools will still be able to invite specialists to talk to pupils about financial skills - a task which National Westminster Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland, in particular, are spending time and money to carry out.

But the report of the FSA's Consumer Education Programme, published last Wednesday, makes it clear that schools should not be expected to rely on experts who may have a vested interest in stimulating de-mand for the services their employers want to sell.

The job of teaching financial skills objectively will therefore fall on teachers. They will be expected to use real-life financial issues as tools in teaching numeracy, as well as part of the new courses in citizenship which Education Secretary David Blunkett is proposing to introduce as part of the National Curriculum.

This raises the question of whether teachers will be willing to take on such extra duties if they are not financially rewarded for doing so. The experience of relying on the goodwill and personal commitment of teachers to supervise sport in schools is not encouraging.

The next question is whether teachers will have the skills and experience to teach the basics of insurance, money management, mortgages and investment to the necessary level.

Teachers are no longer feather-bedded but most of them still take job security and a good pension for granted. They have little personal experience of coping with redundancy, managing investment portfolios or investing for retirement.

Frankly, I doubt whether there are enough skilled teachers to guarantee an adequate standard of teaching in every school, and I fear the Government is about to spoil an essential piece of policy by failing to fund it properly.

To succeed, the initiative really needs a reservoir of skilled, impartial teachers of financial skills, and they are few and far between.