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Martin Lewis: Schools lack resources for financial education

Getting financial education onto the national curriculum was a “pyrrhic victory” and “self-defeating”, the journalist and campaigner Martin Lewis has admitted, as schools lack the resources and capacity to deliver it.

The Money Saving Expert founder also revealed to MPs that his charity paid more than £500,000 to publish a textbook on financial numeracy because former schools minister Nick Gibb told him the state would not pay for it, in what he dubbed a “political failing”.

The national curriculum was beefed up in 2014 to include more elements of financial literacy, particularly in maths. Lewis was one of the leading advocates for the move.

But quizzed by the Parliamentary education committee this morning, he said it was “in many ways…a pyrrhic victory”.

“In some ways it was counter-productive. Beforehand you had volunteer groups and other people funding and providing support in schools, to go into there and teach financial education.

“We got it on the national curriculum in England. And at that point a lot of the resources were pulled from those who had been volunteering and the private sector.”

This was compounded by the expansion of academies, which do not have to follow the national curriculum, he added.

“So the holy grail of trying to get it taught on a compulsory basis in every school, which is what getting it on the curriculum was about, became self-defeating.”

‘Not sure we changed the game’

Lewis also warned the amount of resources put into the subject by the government since then had been “completely flaccid and to a detrimental level”.

“So while I can’t say that I regret we won the campaign at the time, I’m not sure it really changed the game in any way.”

He warned of a “real poverty of financial education” across the UK.

This resulted from a “lack of resourcing for schools, a lack of resourcing for teacher training and a lack of emphasis being put on this so headteachers who are already under stretch have the ability and the want to prioritise and make sure that this is being done”.

Lewis pointed to the £40 billion that was paid back to victims of the payment protection insurance mis-selling scandal.

“If 0.1 per cent of the amount of money that was mis-sold on payment protection insurance was put into financial education, which would be £40 million, we would absolutely completely revolutionise everything we have ever done.

“And perhaps if we put the £40 million in we wouldn’t have the £40 billion mis-selling scandal in the first place. This is about being joined up as a society.”

Government refused to pay for textbook

In 2021, Lewis and Young Money published Your Money Matters, a textbook on financial numeracy that has since been sent to all secondary schools in England for free.

Today, Lewis revealed he spent more than £500,000 of his charity’s money on the resource after Gibb, then the schools minister, told him a textbook was needed but the state would not pay.

Lewis said he had a “substantial political objection that a private individual should be asked to pay for a textbook to go into all schools”.

But he “funded it over my own objections” after he “was told quite succinctly that it was not going to happen unless I funded it”.

The government also refused to back the textbook if it was launched through a publisher, Lewis said, “so not only did I have to fund the writing and the distribution, we actually had to fund the publishing and the printing”.

“We basically had to self publish. If we didn’t’ self publish we couldn’t get the DfE to do the letter it did to schools supporting the textbook. Now, forgive me, what a bloody farce. Is that not just ridiculous?”

‘I could have put bias into textbook’

Lewis did not give himself editorial control. But he noted that a private individual funding the project “could have used it as a piece of propaganda…[which] doesn’t seem right to me.”

Addressing minister Damian Hinds directly at the end of the hearing, Lewis said: “I funded this textbook because the state wouldn’t and told me it had to be funded by an individual.

Damian Hinds
Damian Hinds

“That is a political failing. I could have put bias into this textbook. We need proper textbooks, digital resources, teachers to be trained.”

Quizzed about the state of financial education, Hinds said he was “content with where we are on the maths curriculum”.

But he stated: “I do think there’s a further opportunity, as I say, with simplifying the process of a teacher finding the best materials to support some of these areas of teaching”.

He welcomed the “diversity” of resources on the subject, and said government was funding Oak National Academy.

However, he argued the Oak lessons did not represent a “standardised approach because it’s not compulsory”.

Hinds added he would not “rule out” England’s future participation in the PISA international financial literacy test, which the country does not currently enter to reduce the “burden” on schools.

Watch: Martin Lewis on financial education

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