Money lessons proving a lifeline for students with special needs

Money lessons proving a lifeline for students with special needs: Nationwide branch in Basildon helps with personal finance challenges

Personal finance is slowly finding its way on to the national curriculum of our schools – but this is cold comfort to the many youngsters with special educational needs who do not receive the lessons necessary to help them understand key money matters. 

Here, we visit a building society embarking on an initiative aimed at righting this wrong. 

Why support is needed 

Youngsters with special educational needs do not need our pity – just our support. There are up to a million students between the ages of 16 and 18 who are inhibited in their learning by conditions such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Down’s syndrome. 

Cash is king: Paige Slight and Alfie Coles are given tips about using ATMs

Cash is king: Paige Slight and Alfie Coles are given tips about using ATMs

Although some struggle to live independently, all could enjoy more independent lives if given the tools to cope with personal finance challenges such as running a bank account. 

Sadly, the financial services industry does not offer a standard package of tailored support for such youngsters. Even educational charities involved in putting personal finance on the school curriculum do not offer special lessons. 

Myron Jobson, personal finance education campaigner for wealth manager Interactive Investor, says: ‘This vulnerable group of youngsters need our help more than any other in society – yet, bizarrely, they are forgotten about and ignored by nearly everyone. It is time to address this shameful situation.’

How Branches can help 

At Nationwide Building Society in Basildon, Essex, a dozen students aged between 16 and 18 have come to visit. They are from the Endeavour Co-operative Academy – a special education school – in nearby Brentwood. 

Senior branch manager Zafar Sadak invited them after being inspired by his special needs teacher wife Maz, who shared with him her concern that such youngsters often fall through the cracks in society without the support they need and deserve. 

Branch staff adopt a practical approach as they show these students how to get to grips with online banking, use a branch counter service, operate a cash machine, and are told about the need to be aware of bank scammers. Nationwide provides ‘money lessons’ programmes for all schools. But it does not target those with special needs, so the programme had to be tailored for the academy students. 

Metro Bank offers ‘money zone’ lessons to ‘care leavers’ – young adults who have spent time in care, such as at a children’s home. 

Mainstream personal finance lessons are not compulsory in primary education. Secondary schools usually cover banking issues as part of personal, social, health and economic lessons. The financial education charity Young Enterprise offers educational help for schools countrywide through its Young Money programme. 

But it does not offer standard tailored lessons to those with special needs – merely guidance on how lessons can be adapted. Sharon Davies, chief executive of Young Enterprise, says: ‘More can certainly be done to support those with special educational needs. Key is to offer them practical help – for example, support from a bank to help them manage their money.’ 

The charity does offer team programmes where children with special educational needs can work together and develop money skills. Interactive Investor’s Jobson says: ‘We need action now to ensure personal finance lessons are for everyone.’

The cost of failure 

Those with learning difficulties are often targeted by scammers keen to exploit their trusting nature. Many vulnerable youngsters are targeted as ‘money mules’ – befriended by criminals that use them to launder cash. 

Nationwide’s Sadak says: ‘A particularly heartless ruse is where people pretend to be a youngster’s friend and take advantage of their trusting nature. They then politely ask them if they can send them some money – as they are having trouble using their bank account.’ 

He adds: ‘They might give the youngster £1,000 and ask them to transfer it into their account – telling them to keep £100 as a thank you for helping out.’ Money laundering – even if done unwittingly – is a serious crime that can result in a bank account being frozen. 

A discussion of fraud with those at Nationwide’s Basildon branch results in many sharing their experiences of criminals attempting to steal from them – and their families. Brandon Love, 18, says: ‘Like many of my friends, I am bombarded with phone calls and texts from people who want to sell me something or give me money they say I am owed. 

‘They ask for my bank details. The only way I can deal with it is to ignore the message.’ 


Waving a couple of five pound notes in the air like he has just won the National Lottery, 16-year-old student Alfie Coles is being shown how to use a cash machine at the Nationwide branch in Basildon. 

He is told to always use an ATM within a branch rather than a hole-in-the-wall outside – because it is safer and he is less likely to have his bank details stolen. 

Alfie is warned to cover the PIN pad with his spare hand when tapping in his four-digit number. He takes out the crisp £5 notes from the ATM and is then shown how to deposit the money using the same machine. Alfie says: ‘This lesson has been useful as I have never put money into a machine before – though I still prefer to deal with people at the counter.’ 

Jack Dodd, 17, is a keen collector of coins. He hopes that by taking out money at the counter, he might strike lucky and be given a rare Kew Gardens limited edition 50p coin that is worth £150. 

Although Jack has a bright mind for finance, a sense of innocence makes people like him vulnerable to being conned. 

Paige Slight, 17, has been sitting patiently in front of a computer learning about how to shift money online from a current account to a savings account – resulting in more interest. 

She says: ‘I would much rather spend money straight away by going out with my friends.’ 

But fellow student Morgan Pattle, 16, encourages Paige to try to save more ‘because it will help you buy others things like clothes’. Paige nods in appreciation.


Christopher Lewis

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