The Blog

The Aspiration Gap

Whenever I speak to young people about their futures the same issue arises time and time again, a frustration around aspiration.

Whenever I speak to young people about their futures the same issue arises time and time again, a frustration around aspiration.

In April of this year Ipsos Mori surveyed 16,000 adults across 20 countries, asking how their quality of life compared to that of their parents. In China, 82% of respondents felt their generation had a better deal than their parents. However, of those participating in Britain 40% felt they were worse off than their parents, and only 36% felt positive about their situation. This change has happened within a single generation, and we owe it to young people to understand why.

Young people now face many daunting hurdles between them and a potential career. Choices after statutory education have always been mind boggling, but now we expect young people to make them whilst wading through the murky and mixed messages pumped out by the media. The rising cost of higher education, the disappearing bottom rung of the housing ladder and the well reported difficulty in getting that first job are enough to scare even the most focused and dedicated of students.

Over the last 2 years I have been fortunate enough to head up the UK's leading financial education charity, pfeg (Personal Finance Education Group). In that time I have learnt about the dramatic and powerful impact that financial knowledge, skills and confidence can have on a young person's life. pfeg's mission is to ensure that all young people leave school as a confident consumer on a path to personal financial resilience.

For the last 3 years pfeg have led the campaign for compulsory financial education at school. Working with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Financial Education (which with 254 members is the largest of it's kind in parliament) and Martin Lewis of, we achieved our goal in September last year. From September 2014 all young people attending state maintained secondary schools in England will receive lessons about money in both mathematics and Citizenship education. The other UK countries were ahead of the game and have been teaching their pupils about money for some time.

What has struck me when speaking to teachers about the impact of financial education on young people is the connection to their aspirations. Having a firm grasp of what money is, where it comes from and how we use it undoubtedly enables young people to plan their future with more confidence. Just understanding that different jobs carry different levels of salary can be hugely useful to encouraging young people to plan their next steps.

Earlier this year I was invited in to the Department for Education to meet with the Minister for Education and Childcare, Elizabeth Truss and the great and the good from the leading Careers and STEM education organisations. My part was to talk about how talking about financial matters in the classroom can be a great catalyst for encouraging young people to speak about their aspirations for the future. Given my background I am also incredibly passionate about encouraging young people to consider the STEM sector, particularly young women.

However, there are two arising issues, the first being a skills gap. In 2013, 42% of pupils failed to achieve at least a grade C in GSCE mathematics. The second is that whilst young people clearly value the idea of career when thinking about future happiness they are unaware of the range of careers that exist, particularly in the STEM industry.

The addition of financial education to the English curriculum will help the first issue. 89% of teachers report that teaching financial education has had an impact on attainment in mathematics overall. The second is trickier to tackle and can only be tackled by discussion and information sharing.

pfeg's job is not done. Last year the Money Advice Service launched some research confirming that adult financial habits are set by the age of just seven years old, the conclusion is clear - while financial education in the secondary National Curriculum is a huge leap forward, we need to introduce it in all primary schools as well.

This is why I was so thrilled to be shortlisted for the First Women Awards in association with Lloyds Banking Group - it's a real opportunity to promote opportunities in STEM careers for young women and financial education for all.

If you would like to learn more about pfeg then please visit our website at

Tracey Bleakley is shortlisted for the 2014 First Women Awards.

The awards ceremony will take place on Thursday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.