'Please, sir, can we do rocket science instead?'

Our masters want to move personal finance up the school agenda. Will they pass the test?

Should teenagers learn to do quadratic equations or study how to avoid horrific overdraft charges?

Is calculus more important than cracking compound interest (described by Albert Einstein as one of the universe's most powerful forces) as a way of boosting your savings?

The answer to posers like these is currently being mulled over by a range of the country's best financial and educational brains, including MPs, consumer groups, the City regulator, the educational charity Pfeg and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the organisation that approves exams.

But reaching a solution is proving trickier than expected. Where once there had been impetus for a personal finance GCSE - a single proposed course intended to help teenagers grow up into confident, financially sophisticated consumers - a hotchpotch of initiatives looks set to be introduced.

This means that millions of children could still leave school and join the world of work or higher education without any real knowledge of how to handle their finances.

The current plans adopt a piecemeal approach that seeks to embed personal finance education in separate areas of the National Curriculum. At present, the subject is taught only as part of either personal, health and social education (PHSE), a general course, or citizenship (a short GCSE course found in all secondary schools).

In both cases, critically, personal finance doesn't have to feature as part of the curriculum. This decision is left to individual schools, and will depend on their resources and on whether staff feel confident in teaching the subject.

Personal finance must also jostle for time against some tough competition: subjects studied as part of the same courses include sex education and the dangers of drug abuse. It's not surprising, therefore, that the less high-profile topic of money management may take second billing.

Consequently, it's still possible for pupils to pass through seven years of secondary schooling without any exposure to personal finance.

To be fair, the subject can also be taught in the shape of any of 20 or so separate qualifications ranging from BTECs to diplomas - but again, schools must actively choose to provide these courses for pupils.

The shortcomings of the current level of provision are becoming increasingly obvious. Britons now have personal debts of more than £1,100bn (including mortgages); consumer, student and graduate debts are all at record levels; bankruptcies are on the rise; there is a serious shortfall in pension savings; and confidence in financial services firms is at a low after a series of mis-selling scandals.

Better education for young people about money and how to manage it should translate into greater financial literacy when they reach adulthood - hopefully enabling them to avoid many of the problems encountered by today's twenty- somethings. To this end, fresh measures are being considered.

Driven by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the City regulator, the grand plan for England is for personal finance to become a "unit" of what is called "functional mathematics" in all schools from 2008. (Different but not dissimilar plans are proposed for Wales and Northern Ireland.)

Functional mathematics is described by the FSA as a new part of GCSE maths, aimed at applying personal finance scenarios to the subject - for example, how annual percentage rates are calculated on credit cards.

This is the first part of the initiative. By 2010, a review by the QCA commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills, could have led to the entire GCSE maths syllabus being revised with the aim of incorporating personal finance education.

However, discussions on both these targets are at an early, consultative stage and it's not yet clear whether either plan will lead to personal finance becoming an integral part of maths GCSE.

"On the one hand, some very valuable work is being done," says Simon Ashmore of the Institute of Financial Services, an exam body that specialises in personal finance qualifications. "But we would like to see [money management] as a standalone subject on the National Curriculum, ideally as a GCSE.

"We have such poor consumer financial literacy, and personal finance education isn't being given the proper priority."

In January, the Institute of Financial Services launched its own pilot personal finance exam for secondary schools - the Level 2 Intermediate Certificate in Personal Finance - approved by the QCA as equivalent to a GCSE. It has been adopted by hundreds of schools, Mr Ashmore says, but is being taught only as an extra subject around the main curriculum.

It had been hoped that a personal finance GCSE might be sponsored by the financial services industry - either by the private sector or by consumer groups. The proposal was considered as part of the FSA's national financial capability programme - an ambitious plan to raise financial literacy across all age groups - but was ultimately rejected. The argument was that the subject was too complex to be defined as a GCSE in its own right.

Many in the industry have now swung behind the current proposals to include personal finance as part of GCSE maths.

"It's the route more likely to succeed," says Doug Taylor of the consumer group Which?. "It's really about trying to integrate with people's lifestyles."

However, a spokesman for Nationwide building society says it believes a trick has been missed.

"With a specific GCSE, [a pupil] would have something to work towards," he points out. "We've also missed a big opportunity with the introduction of the child trust fund. This could have been a considerable spur for personal finance education - imagine learning about money as a child when you've got a £250 pot."

In a recent report, Nationwide also suggested that the Government could introduce financial incentives, to be paid into child trust funds, to encourage pupils to study for a personal finance qualification.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

    £40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

    Ashdown Group: Direct Marketing Manager - B2C, Financial Services - Slough

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity h...

    Carlton Senior Appointments: Sr Wealth Manager - San Francisco - Inv AdvisoryFirm

    $125 - $175 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Senior Wealth Manager – In...

    Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

    $200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum