Family Fortunes: how we built a money skills programme

As we launch the findings from 65 projects resulting from the What Works Fund, the national director of the Campaign for Learning shares her experience of designing, running and evaluating a financial capability project.

A preventative approach to low financial capability in families

“Low-income families are under increasing financial pressure, but often don’t seek help until they reach crisis point,” explains Juliette Collier, national director at the Campaign for Learning.

Campaign for Learning director Juliette Collier
Campaign for Learning director Juliette Collier

Several problems are providing growing challenges to the financial welfare of families, with food poverty a major public health concern. The Campaign for Learning saw family learning as a preventative answer and an opportunity to help build a more inclusive, equal society.

For more than 20 years, the organisation has been championing lifelong learning at a national level with partners, generating and testing fresh ideas and sharing the findings, best practice and resources.

Like any skill, people can learn how to manage their money. “We were confident that developing a bold new family learning programme could help, improving the financial wellbeing and resilience of disadvantaged families.”

As a core part of its work supporting The Financial Capability Strategy for the UK, The Money Advice Service (MAS) launched the £11.3 million What Works Fund in 2016 to establish the most effective ways of helping different groups manage their money and to find out what works to increase financial capability.

The Money Advice Service provided funding and support to the Campaign for Learning to develop and test an innovative family approach to financial capability called Family Fortunes. The programme, evaluated by the Institute of Education at University College London, provides new evidence of what works in financial education for families.

Outcomes of the Family Fortunes project

  • 91% of children said that the programme had helped them learn about money
  • 71% of parents with English as an additional language (EAL) experienced a change in at least one of three financial capability areas after attending the programme
  • 95% of parents would recommend the Family Fortunes programme to other parents
  • 64% of parents with EAL experienced positive changes in their money management behaviours by the end of the Family Fortunes course in one or more of the eight indicators.

Read the project evaluation

What benefit did the What Works Fund bring to your organisation?

“The What Works Fund was absolutely brilliant for us. It gave us the space to really think about the development and design of a family financial capability programme.”

“The What Works Fund was absolutely brilliant for us. It gave us the space to really think about the development and design of a family financial capability programme.

There really hasn’t been a national family focused programme that’s preventative. It’s always been about crisis point intervention.

It gave us the freedom to test something out. That’s what was amazing.

We’re about developing a learning culture – in families, in the workplace… We’ve tested family learning projects before but the difference with this project is the focus on money.”

What sources of funding does the Campaign for Learning usually rely on?

“We used to receive core government funding, but like many other charities, we were hit by the austerity cuts, so what we’ve done is to diversify our funding base. We offer capacity building and training which provides an income, we have sponsorship – which is a growing support for our work, and we also apply for grants.

Because we don’t get government funding, we have been able to become increasingly agile and innovative in our approach and respond directly to people’s needs, rather than responding to government policy initiatives. We can also undertake research work to test new approaches, that can inform government policy and commissioning.”

Setting up the project

“The timescales were quite short… so we did pilots just to develop the model and test it with real families. We had the luxury of being able to do meaningful consultation with the families. We tested the pilots after we developed the programme based on [that consultation]. That means you’re really responding to what people want and need, and that was borne out in the evaluation: 95% of the parents would recommend it to other parents. People really valued it and I think it was that time for development and being able to test it early on before we rolled it out was really great.

It links into other mainstream sustainable funding. In a lot of the areas it was delivered and tested through the project, it’s now becoming a mainstream programme that family learning provides can deliver through their adult education budget allocation.”

The context for project delivery

Campaign for Learning Family Fortunes Project toolkit
Campaign for Learning Family Fortunes Project toolkit

“The changes to welfare benefits present families with money management challenges such as switching from weekly payments to a single monthly payment paid in arrears. We’ve been supporting family learning since 1997 but this project is a direct response to these changes that can tip people into financial hardship. Unless we are creating support for people around financial literacy, people won’t have the skills and experience to budget.”

How the project was delivered

The model

  • A preventative approach, using family learning pedagogy
  • Inclusive in nature: the term ‘family’ was left open so adults and children with a range of relationships could participate
  • Providing training for family learning tutors and intermediaries
  • Targeting EAL families, with children aged 7–11 years
  • A free programme, mainly delivered in primary school classrooms.

The structure

  • A flexible 10-hour programme, with a lesson plan for each session
  • Resources and activities for parents and for children with parents
  • Children join parents for the last half hour of each session, where possible, or parents are guided on how to run the final activity at home
  • A ‘take-away’ home learning activity for the family.

“We are not a financial education charity… we’ve moved into this because we realised a family learning approach could provide a solution to a real need.

MAS is really ahead of the game on looking at children and young people with parents. That intergenerational dynamic is absolutely crucial.

“MAS is really ahead of the game on looking at children and young people with parents. That intergenerational dynamic is absolutely crucial.”

“What a lot of programmes do is focus on schools. Schools are being asked to do everything.”

See the full Family Fortunes case study

The power of talking about money

“Families build relationships with learning providers in a range of contexts, but they rarely talk about money.”

“Families build relationships with family learning providers in a range of contexts, but they rarely talk about money.

There’s no preventative financial support families. It was a vacuum. Money is really too tight to mention.

The overwhelming thing that stops practitioners and families talking about money – despite how intricately money is linked to outcomes like mental health, wellbeing and so on – is that money is a source of anxiety.

Practitioners also often don’t want to talk about money because they feel, in order to address it, they have to be financial capability experts. That’s a major thing. When we do the Family Fortunes training for practitioners we’re not saying ‘By the end of this course you’ll be able to be a financial education expert,’ what we’re saying is ‘You’ll have the skills to enable people to do all the things that will help them.’ This isn’t about being all things to all people – a debt advisor, Citizens Advice or marriage guidance counsellor – it’s about understanding your local context, knowing who the experts are in your local area, finding out referral times, and supporting that movement into specialist help.

One of the benefits of programmes like the Family Fortunes project is that there is a lot of peer support. Nobody’s talking about it, but lots of people are in the same boat.

More than that, with a family approach to financial capability, you are changing a culture. It embeds learning within the family and delivers practical skills in a real and relevant context. Adults and children learn together about the difference between needs and wants and addressing pester power and this reinforces what happens at home: you’re teaching essential life skills but you’re impacting the child’s environment because of the changes their parents have put into effect from the programme.

You get a double bang for your buck – a financial impact on the household as well as role modelling positive money habits to the next generation.”

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Describing the evaluation process

“It was incredibly thorough, with independent support from Ipsos Mori and the evaluation learning partners there to help.”

“It was incredibly thorough, with independent support from Ipsos Mori and the evaluation learning partners there to help.

We were aware that we were guinea pigs – setting it up was really intense for us. We started with the theory of change – it was very useful to have the outcomes frameworks and question banks – getting your head around that I found really hard because it was so massive. It would have helped to have a clearer understanding of how it worked. There was lots of discovery. So much stuff!”

Evaluate your programme with our toolkit

What would you say to another organisation about What Works?

“It’s a really supportive process, it’s robust, but it gives you an opportunity to really find out what works as well as what doesn’t. They’re really interested in analysis rather than just delivery. For us that’s brilliant because we’re not a delivery organisation as such, what we’re interested in is co-creating [projects] with families and practitioners that can be tested and rolled out. In terms of our ethos it was perfect. Does exactly what it says on the tin.

As a result of the project we now have evidence that the Family Fortunes concept and delivery model works and this has given us a platform to extend the approach to reach new audiences and develop new resources. For example, we know that children’s attitudes and behaviours around money are shaped before the age of seven, so one priority is to develop an Early Years model and test its impact on the Home Learning Environment, so this is a priority for new development work. There are also opportunities to work with housing associations and foodbanks and embed the programme in schools and every Local Authority.

Our Family Fortunes What Works project has put us in an extremely strong position to build new strategic partnerships and to seek new investment to build on the Family Fortunes approach. It’s been a real catalyst for positive change in our understanding of family financial capability and our ability to increase families’ financial resilience.

To any organisation interested in What Works, I would say it’s a brilliant opportunity!”

Next steps

Learn more about the What Works Programme and financial capability resources for organisations working with families.

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