International finance: new course gives pupils the edge

Sixth-formers who want a career in the Square Mile are being trained on a new course
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When Haileybury's head of economics, Jonathan Cohen, joined the Hertfordshire school in January, fresh from a 15-year financial career, he found pupils eager to hear his tales from the trading floor. He happily obliged, realising that with stints at investment banks UBS and Lehman Brothers behind him, he was in a position to give his pupils a real glimpse of the Wall Street way of life, something an A-level in economics or business studies would never do.

It's no wonder stories of six-figure city bonuses turn the heads of would-be university students. Student debts after a three-year degree course run to thousands of pounds but competition for a lucrative financial career is hot. Cohen decided to give his sixth-formers a head start and with Ed Church, another city-boy-turned-teacher, put together the international finance programme. Assuming they put the hours in and pass the exam in March, his pupils will have an accredited financial qualification and the inside track on a City career before they've even got a university place.

"Rather than running a typical one-hour presentation, I wanted to make it more formal and more productive," explains Cohen. The result is a unique six-month course for 40 pupils. It won't be all number crunching, late nights and double espressos, though. The two-hour weekly sessions on pensions, bonds and equities will be spiced up by visits from financial high fliers and the Merrill Lynch Trading Game, an investment fantasy league in which the pupils will be staking their Monopoly money against leading City traders.

Cohen has used his contacts to involve big name banks such as Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and BNP Paribas in the scheme and provide work experience placements for the Haileybury pupils, who will also get the chance to peek inside the country's top financial institutions on trips to the London Stock Exchange, the Bank of England and Lloyds.

Haileybury is only 20 miles from London and some of its 755 pupils have parents who work in the City. So many wanted to do the course that Cohen had to turn down around half the applicants.

"I think they buy into the idea that the City is a very dynamic and exciting place to work. They're attracted by the fact it's a meritocracy and can involve lots of overseas travel. Of course there's no escaping the fact that it's a lucrative place to work as well."

Fourteen of the 40 accepted on to the course come from three local comprehensives and about 50 per cent are girls, a figure Cohen admits is not replicated in the financial industry. He says the qualification, which is equivalent to the Introduction to Investment exam taken by first jobbers in the City and is going to be awarded a Ucas points value, will give potential employers and university admissions tutors proof that candidates have an interest in finance.

Haileybury's master, Stuart Westley, thinks the course will be a rewarding exercise in getting his students to use their brains outside of regular lesson time. "It is not only informative but a rigorous course, which requires them to think," he says.

The course has been accredited by the Securities and Investment Institution and is being sponsored by BPP, which provides materials and training for professional qualifications. Chief executive Phil Morey thinks it is a great way to turn students on to thinking about their futures. "These pupils won't be starting in the next year but they do need to be making informed choices about what degree they want to do, with an eye on what career they are aiming for.

We're not trying to say: 'You must go down this road', but finance is one of the most international careers. These guys have high aspirations of where they want to go with their careers and it's a great way of giving them early exposure to that environment."

Although his programme is in its infancy Cohen hopes it will do far more than just help his pupils garner a few extra Ucas points and persuade employers to take them seriously. In the long term he thinks it could benefit Britain's economy: "If we could spread the model to other schools, we could have bright, well-informed, intelligent people coming out of schools and universities and joining the City. That's what London needs to happen to remain the leading financial centre in the world."