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Financial Literacy – Counting the Cost

The Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane believes financial literacy should be built into the core curriculum early in secondary schools. Doing so will lead to more people being better prepared for the challenges of adult life and more confident when handling financial matters.

However, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, believes otherwise. He confirms financial literacy already features as part of citizenship, PSHE and maths, but he doesn’t see it being a stand-alone subject in a curriculum already “bursting at the seams”.

Here’s another example of differing priorities between academics and the adult world for which young people are being prepared. The lack of development in the core curriculum over the last century confirms that it best serves the interests of the academic fraternity rather than those of the learners. The curriculum challenge should focus less about cramming more in and more about its fit for today’s purpose.

Our education model fails the student in terms of creating a degree of confidence and comfort in dealing with number. It is therefore hardly surprising that numerical fluency is considered a specialist rather than an essential life skill.

Financial literacy begins with numerical fluency. As we all have financial commitments that frame our personal lives, it’s an essential life skill. How we manage our personal budgets is important to our well-being and our ability to navigate life’s challenges. It’s no different in business where reconciling sales revenues with expenditure and their timings impacts on the financial well-being of a company and its future ability to compete.

Good financial information helps us to locate issues that demand attention. However, it requires interpretation if it is to help define priorities, inform our decision making and to lead with greater confidence. Such confidence spreads to those with whom we work closely.

Our own experience confirms this reticence with number. Whilst our Financial Awareness programmes are heavily subscribed, the level of apprehension shown in the early modules is palpable, particularly from experienced managers. They’re enthusiastic learners, but they feel vulnerable in acknowledging what they don’t know and lacking in confidence about what they do know.

Through our assignment process and 1-2-1 coaching sessions their confidence develops over the course of the 6-month programme. It’s by no means linear with each learner experiencing unexpected challenges and gaps in their understanding at various turns.

We need our managers to be financially literate, to make more informed decisions and to lead with greater confidence. Ensuring they possess a minimum level of financial literacy and numerical fluency is a good place to start. There’s no point waiting for educationalists and politicians to reach a helpful consensus. With the majority of people who will be working in 2030 already in today’s workforce there’s a growing imperative to act now.

To read the report by Branwen Jeffreys, Education Editor for BBC News.

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