Is today the beginning of the end of the UK’s debt illiteracy?

A double act with Ed Balls

A double act with Ed Balls

I’ve just come back from the launch of compulsory financial education in schools, something to celebrate but also one of the most difficult ‘performances’ of my career. Along with Children’s Minister Ed Balls and Pfeg I was part of the first conference for teachers talking about how you talk about money.

I must admit the sheer concept is exciting, having been ranting about the lack of education for years, today was a visceral example that things are changing.  Every school will teach personal finance as part of the curriculum from Sept 2011, which I believe is a tangible step towards ending mainstream debt illiteracy in the UK.

The only remaining hurdle is to ensure it’s enshrined by statute, a debate due in Parliament in the next few weeks. That would enable headteachers to ensure it’s amongst their resource priorities. The debate has cross party support, but I hope nothing derails that, as can happen in politics.

A double act with Ed Balls.

After opening remarks, I found myself doing a double header Q&A with Ed Balls – an interesting time as the room was full of passionate front line campaigners on the issue as well as the MoneySaver teachers who we’d got tickets for.

Surprisingly working with the minister was quite a laugh – both of us quipping – not quite Morecambe and Wise maybe a bit closer to PJ and Duncan in the early years. At the same time though it brought out important issues such as the need for public legal education as well as financial.

My favourite moment of it came when talking about student budgeting…

Me: “I’ll give you the simple question – as a working person you shouldn’t spend more than you….”

Ed Balls: “Erm… earn over a life time”

A classic answer from the former Economic Secretary to the Treasury – all I wanted was “earn”, but he thought as I’d be talking about ‘debt’ later that this needed factoring it – love it!

(Note the point was then I asked the audience “what shouldn’t a student spend more than?”  – as we always tell students to budget but never delineate their income.  My answer is their student loan, any grant, any earnings, any money from parents – but not 0% overdraft of debt cash).

The most difficult presentation of my life.

After that came the tough bit – and if I’m honest I was disappointed with myself afterwards.

As part of the day I was scheduled to teach a class of children in front of the 200 strong audience of mainly teachers – the kids were a little younger than I’ve taught the same stuff to before and there’s no time to warm up with them.

In itself this was rather ambitious, yet when I walked in the room and saw I had the kids in one direction facing the audience I knew it was a tough task.

End of UK debt illiteracy?

End of UK debt illiteracy?

Even though doing live talks is one of my specialties and I love it (see MoneySaving Live) I was half uncomfortable at having most of my back to some of them at any time – moving the chairs a bit did help.
Normally big bouncing gestures are part of it – but working with the teens up there, I was hampered from doing that as it’s just not something that works ‘close up’

And while engaging with a class of kids is never easy – doing it in front of a large audience of teachers is frankly a nightmare task.

While I think the info came across ok, it certainly wasn’t a text book example of how to enthuse a bunch of teens – in parts I bombed – it did feel a touch like trying to scale a wall with oil drenching your hands.

Kids ask the brightest questions.

Yet some of it must’ve got through as one bright moment afterwards illustrated: one of the girls asked me “if everyone learned to be good with money as you teach, and everyone was rich, wouldn’t it just cause inflation?”

It’s a really interesting question, especially from someone who I think was probably 13 or 14.

Most questions I’m asked have been asked many times before, not this one, so I took a second to think then answered “what I’m teaching isn’t about people becoming rich, its about stopping people wasting their cash and making bad decisions – it doesn’t necessarily generate more money to push inflation – it hopefully just increases the use that people get out of their existing cash”

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