Banking on school?
On a trip to England at the weekend, I started thinking. Never a good idea, I know, but sometimes you just can't help it.
During my trip, I met a number of teachers. This reminded me of my first job when I left university nearly 33 years ago. I taught A-level economics for a year at Dulwich College, a private school in south-east London.
The reason for my choice was bizarre. As a 21-year-old rebel at the time, I was fundamentally against private education. (As a nearly 54-year-old rebel, I still am.) So why did I take this job?
The simple truth was that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I left university. So I went to the Careers Advisory Service and said that maybe I'd be interested in teaching. The adviser replied, using an image I've never forgotten: "Well, if you want to dip your toes into the world of teaching, you should go and work at a private school."
When I looked at him quizzically, he explained: "At private schools, you don't need any teaching qualifications." Incredible, but it was true at the time. Parents paid large sums of money to be taught by teachers who, like me, might be completely unqualified.
This past weekend also got me thinking about what I learned at school — or, rather, what I didn't learn. I didn't learn anything as useful as how to cook, clean or look after plants. "Home economics", as it was called back then, was reserved firmly for girls.
I did do a bit of sewing and pottery at my state primary school, where we had mixed classes. But at my all-boys state secondary school, Beechen Cliff in Bath, there was nothing practical apart from a bit of woodwork, metalwork and technical drawing, all of which bored me to tears, so I gave them up at the first opportunity.
On the other hand, I learned a lot about (non-home) economics. This consisted mainly of theories about how firms and the economy work — or, at least, how they "would work", so to speak, if we lived in a perfect world.
Yet even in economics we learned nothing very practical about finance, such as how to read a bank statement or a company balance sheet, how to understand budgets, debts and taxes, or how to calculate compound interest rates. (I did, however, write about compound interest in the Financial English section of Business Spotlight 6/2012.)
In principle, this has got to be a good thing. Slightly worrying, however, is the fact that these lessons would be provided by staff from Britain's high-street banks, which as the FT wrote, were "responsible for some of the worst consumer mis-sellings scandals of the past decade".
In an editorial comment, the FT added,"Still, if children grow up with more grasp of the mysteries of finance, and less likely to squander their money, it will be a useful outcome".
I totally agree — just as long as the bank staff don't combine the personal finance lessons with home economics and teach the children how to cook the books.