'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; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
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

    Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

    Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

    £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

    Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

    £23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links