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Department for Education - Reforming the National Curriculum in England

ABCUL, on behalf of our member credit unions, would like to use the opportunity of this consultation to express our support for the proposal to include education in financial matters in the new National Curriculum, both through citizenship and in mathematics through the incorporation of, for instance, financial interest calculations.  As a sector which is committed to enhancing the financial well being of its membership and, by extension, the public at large, our members support the importance of a solid financial education.  This is particularly relevant in the modern financialised economy in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to function productively without engagement with a range of complex financial products and services.

Many credit unions today actively work with schools to support the provision of financial education both through providing classroom-based financial education lessons and, more often, through setting up school savings clubs which encourage children to build a savings habit at an early age.  This often also involves engagement with children’s parents which can also benefit their financial health. 

In some cases, children are involved in the supervised running of a school collection point where school children will themselves collect deposits from their peers and operate some simple book keeping.  Our members have found over many years that this form of “learning through doing” can have a significant benefit in terms of enhanced financial capability and confidence when handling and working with money.

To illustrate this work, the Cheers for Credit Unions! resources developed by Education Scotland in conjunction with Glasgow Credit Union, Glasgow City Council, GEMAP and Learning & Teaching Scotland are indicative of the kinds of work which credit unions can and do perform in schools across Britain.  The series of videos and supporting documentation available at the website give a real sense of the range of benefits that credit union involvement in financial education can have, from simply enhancing children’s financial capability to providing opportunities for the development of leadership skills as well as strengthening relationships between younger and older children.

Some credit unions, however, do encounter barriers to engaging with schools.  This is particularly evident in the secondary school sector where credit unions can often experience difficulties in convincing school staff of the importance of what they can offer.  While the formal addition of financial education in the National Curriculum should address some of these barriers, we feel that there may be a case to provide some guidance to schools on partners they may want to consider working with in order to deliver financial education and to include the credit union sector in this. 

We feel that it would be a lost opportunity if schools predominantly work with the banking sector to deliver financial education as this would provide only a narrow, mainstream understanding of financial matters.  Evidence from a research study commissioned by ABCUL into the role credit unions can play in supporting financial education primarily in secondary schools found that teaching staff found a great deal of added-value in the community and ethical ethos of the credit union for supporting financial education as compared with the trend towards partnering with highstreet banks.

Case study – Unify Credit Union, Wigan

Unify Credit Union serves the Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council area as well as the neighbouring Chorley district of Lancashire.  It is a strong, fast-growing credit union which has seen membership more than double from 3,073 in 2009 to 6,438 in 2012 and assets almost triple in the same period from £778,560 to £2,232,478. It is an example of the great potential of the credit union model which has been proven around the world and has been well-supported by successive Government programmes to develop the credit union sector.  It has expressed an interest in being included in ABCUL’s bid to the Credit Union Expansion Project.

In 2006, Unify began to engage schools in the area with a view to supporting financial education efforts under the Every Child Matters agenda.  Initially they had some difficulty in building relationships with schools but through the intervention of their local authority these difficulties eventually subsided – at least in the case of primary schools.  Unify’s initial difficulties in engaging schools are symptomatic of those experienced by credit unions in general as supported by ABCUL’s research.

Following these initial difficulties, however, Unify has had a great deal of success supporting primary schools.  Unify works with 20 schools with 1,100 children currently actively saving with them.  These children have amassed savings of just over £90,000.  The credit union provides free gifts – pencil cases and pens – to children upon joining and has found that most, if not all, continue to save with the credit union throughout and following their primary school career.

Practically, the credit union trains and supports parent volunteers to manage a weekly school savings collection at which the children deposit their savings and volunteers engage them in discussions about setting and working towards savings goals.  Many children will save towards the cost of school excursion and field trips, for example. 

Overall the scheme has proven invaluable to enhancing the awareness of children to financial matters and encouraging an important savings habit which will stand the children in good stead as they move through school and towards adult life.

The full response is available to download on the right hand side.