Martin Lewis is the Money Saving Expert. He runs an excellent website which demystifies personal finance and makes very useful appearances on the Jeremy Vine show advising people who to save money, and more importantly how to stop wasting it. His personal and professional behaviour is highly ethical, he is genuinely on the side of the consumer and shares valuable nuggets of learning to help the man in the street beat, or at least fight back against, the big financial institutions.
He has an e-petition at the moment to add financial education to the school curriculum. Lewis’ argument is “We’re a financially illiterate nation, with millions caught by misselling, overborrowing and being ripped off.” and he believes that schools are ideally placed to change this by teaching young people about finance. This is a laudable objective and I agree with him about how the majority of the nation have about as much clue about finance as they do about what happens under the bonnets of their cars. The whole thing is a black box to them, which makes them easy prey for anyone hawking financial products with dubious benefits or bloated rates of interest. Take car finance for instance. All car dealers will offer you finance on a new or used car. I was recently offered this, and the kind man printed out a quotation for me as I drank my watery coffee ‘from the machine’. I handed him the quote back with a polite ‘no thanks’. He looked shocked, as if nobody had ever done that before. I could see he wanted an explanation. I hit the browse button on my iPhone, launched a price comparison site and quickly entered the details of what I wanted to borrow. The first 10 hits were all at rates of between 6.2% and 7.0%. I raised me eyebrows hoping he would join the dots and save him an explanation. His eyes met mine with incomprehension, at which point something in me snapped and I prodded his print out with my little finger at the point where an APR of 11.98% clearly printed at the bottom.
So education to help young people work their way through a financial maze is a good thing, hard to disagree with, surely something schools should be doing as a matter of urgency/
But I have not signed Martin Lewis’ petition and I don’t think I will. I have not signed for this reason; the curriculum is already full, there is no more room for extra stuff. Every special interest group and latest moral panic (riots for instance) create calls for schools to ‘teach X’. But nobody ever explains what will come off the curriculum to make way for this. The curriculum is not the educational equivalent of the Tardis, you cannot go inside and be greeted by endless vistas of time and space. It has limited space, and schools have limited time to teach.
I have believed for a long time that the content of the National Curriculum should be treated in the same way as interest rates. These are now set by an committee of experts, chosen for their conflicting views and independent of politicians. A committee for the National Curriculum would, in my opinion, be an experiment worth trying. Although the selection of members would itself be politically fraught; once in place the committee could calmly consider what compulsory content schools should teach. Special interest groups, however worthy their claims would have to present evidence to the committee which could act without fear of political recriminations and the Education Secretary of the day could be bound by their decision without losing face in the same way as the Chancellor of the Exchequor does not have to explain or justify the decisions about interest rates.