A financial education programme, backed by credit unions, is being rolled out to help primary school children and their families manage their money, by setting up school savings clubs.
With research from the Money Advice Service suggesting that children’s financial habits money are formed by the age of seven, it is hoped the LifeSavers programme will ingrain better lifelong attitudes towards money – and see the children take their credit union membership into adulthood.
The initiative is a partnership between the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Just Finance Foundation and Young Enterprise, with financial support from Virgin Money and the government.
Polly Taylor from LifeSavers said: “It’s a three-pronged approach – financial education delivered in the classroom; getting parents involved in that financial education so that it might also help them; and credit unions, which support the school savings clubs.
“It’s about the frequency of saving rather than the amount – the child comes in once a week to make a deposit, to promote a regular saving habit. This scheme offers hands-on experience – it shows them how savings build up towards a goal, backed by lessons in the classroom.
“It also promotes credit unions as an ethical, local platform for saving.”
After a pilot scheme in 2015 and 2016, the programme is being rolled out across the North East, Nottinghamshire, South East London and West Yorkshire. It will be extended to two more regions next year.
There are 71 schools involved, with more than 600 staff and nearly 7,000 pupils taking part, while 550 teachers from other schools have been trained to deliver financial education. Most of the savings clubs have only recently launched in 20 of the schools, with most due to begin next term, but already more than 525 children are saving. And one of the pilot schools from 2016 is just about to enrol its 100th saver.
The goal is to roll out the scheme to 120 schemes but LifeSavers hopes to exceed this target.
The scheme works by matching a credit union to a school in that area; the children join the credit union as a saver and the school acts as an interface, as a school bank.
“Schools are quite creative in developing this – they provide a name, design a logo, T shirts – and the credit union provides the service,” said Ms Taylor.
The school banks use online platforms which are more efficient and more reflective of current banking procedure that old-fashioned paper schemes. It is also more engaging for children, who are trained to run the bank, with adult supervisors.
Children are brought into the scheme as junior savers, and it is hoped they will remain with the credit union as adult members. Before then, the challenge is to keep the process going as the child moves to secondary school. “Hopefully they’ll have such positive experiences it’s something they will want to keep up,” said Ms Taylor.
The scheme only runs in primary schools because financial education is already statutory in secondary schools; a Church of England study found a gap in education provision at a younger age when attitudes towards money are formed.
For children who cannot afford to save, there are class savings clubs. In one case, the class runs an allotment, selling the produce to the school canteen, with the money put into the savings account and used to buy a treat for the class, such as a cinema trip.
Schools include St John the Baptist Primary School in Colwick, Nottingham. Teacher Fi Belton, the school’s LifeSavers champion said: “We launched LifeSavers in St John’s with an exciting Money Week.
“As well as a visit from a ‘maths magician’, there was a special assembly, where we were joined by the manager of Nottingham Credit Union, and a school competition to design our savings club logo. Six children were picked to run the savings club with the help of three adult volunteers.
“The children’s enthusiasm for the scheme has been infectious. One of the first junior savers brought his form back to school saying that his mum also wanted to join the credit union, so we can already see the potential impact of LifeSavers on our whole school community.”
Credit unions involved in the programme are Leeds City, Bradford District, Tynedale Community Bank, NE First, 2Shires, Nottingham CU, London Mutual and Lewisham Plus. From September, Lifesavers will be working with four more credit unions in Liverpool, Bristol and Gloucester.