FT Financial Literacy and Inclusion Campaign: Teaching personal finance with hair extensions

This article is the last part of the FT’s Financial Education and Inclusion Campaign

How would you persuade a teenager that learning about personal finance is worth their time and attention? For Nicola Butler, the answer was hair extensions.

The teacher at Ysgol Eirias, a secondary school in Colwyn Bay, Wales, once overheard pupils discussing the hair procedure, which can cost up to £400. “How can you afford this? ” we asked. “Mom will put it on credit,” was the reply.

Butler was surprised but saw an unorthodox opportunity to open a discussion with 14-year-olds about the allure of consumer debt, interest rates and the true cost of borrowing.

It is by capturing such conversations—using his own experience of everyday life and that of his students—that Butler brings money lessons home to students of all walks of life, from the wealthy to those who make money. queue every week at the food bank. “I try to keep it as realistic as possible,” she told the FT.

This week, her achievements were publicly recognized, as the winner of the Interactive Investor Personal Finance Teacher of the Year award. The annual awards give cash prizes to seven schools whose teachers have distinguished themselves as proponents of a subject not always seen as central to the curriculum.

The two winners – Butler in the secondary school category and Nick Redfern from Powers Hall Academy in Witham, Essex, for primary education – receive £5,000 for their schools.

Redfern initially trained as a teacher, but spent over 25 years working as an investment banker in London before returning to a teaching role. With a high proportion of working-class children in his classes, he created lessons exploring the dangers of debt, asking students to determine what would be the cheapest form of borrowing – a big bank, a credit card or salary. lender.

Showing students old advertisements for Wonga, a now-defunct payday lender, allowed him to pass on warnings about the sophisticated marketing techniques employed by lenders to attract new customers.

Judges also praised a ‘money personality’ quiz designed by Butler, which introduced key financial concepts by exploring scenarios students were likely to encounter, as well as school trips around the world. local banks or – with sixth grade girls – at the annual Women Mean Business Conference.

Butler, 53, became a teacher seven years ago and is well placed to explain the risks and rewards of financial services, having spent most of her career in finance, working for NatWest bank, asset managers assets and other businesses.

But she also has personal insight into the challenges faced by low-income or unemployed families. At the age of five, she was sent to a private school, but less than a year later her father left home and her debt-ridden mother was declared bankrupt. She spent much of her childhood being displaced and taken out of schools, at one point facing homelessness.

This searing experience gave him a keen sense that even for his most privileged students, personal finance is a vital life lesson. “I tell them that if things change, you have to understand that you have to be able to plan for yourself and not rely on anyone. I am very, very aware of that. »

Another educator recognized in the annual awards was Jonathan Shields, finalist in the secondary school category. A teacher at Harrow School Online, he encouraged his students to gain difficult financial qualifications. In 2009, one became the UK’s youngest ever qualified financial adviser, with a qualification from the Chartered Institute of Insurance. Shields now introduces students to the Investment Operations Certificate offered by the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment – ​​normally the preserve of finance professionals or graduates.

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This article is part of the FT’s Financial Literacy and Inclusion campaign to develop educational programs to build financial literacy for those who need it most.

Financial literacy education gives young people the foundation for future prosperity and can help the economically disadvantaged move out of deprivation. Join the FT Flic campaign to promote financial literacy in the UK and around the world

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Personal finance should be a central part of every school’s curriculum, he argued. “It’s a national scandal that young people don’t understand credit cards, investments and all the other basic financial infrastructure that is so essential to the life of a successful adult.”

It’s a need recognized by the Financial Times, which has launched a campaign to promote financial literacy and improve the prospects of millions of people by helping them understand how money works in everyday life.

For Butler, these lessons have become more urgent in recent years as financial products have become more widely available to everyone. She remembers working at Pizza Hut’s corporate headquarters in the 1980s when the finance team made the first credit card payment for a meal at one of its restaurants. It was a different era, when credit was more difficult to access. “Now, suddenly, it’s just accepted. Everyone has credit cards,” she said.

Although she worries about temptations to put purchases on plastic, helping students understand the ramifications is hugely rewarding. “Suddenly you see the penny drop. They’ll start asking questions and going, “Oh, that’s why my dad does that.” It is absolutely amazing to see.

Sarah J. Greer