Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 01 Jul 2010

My son says he can do a GCSE in personal finance. Is this is an exam subject? Is it worth taking?

Hillary's Advice

One of the great debates in education has always been whether the priority is to teach children stuff (the kings and queens of England, the rules of algebra) or skills (how to amass, sort, assess information and draw conclusions from it). And within that debate is another about whether the stuff we teach them should be pure (the Greek myths, the periodic table) or applied (how to stay healthy, how to run a business).

These divides are, of course, arbitrary since all knowledge is ultimately indivisible. But they arouse great passions. So those who believe that education should elevate young minds with Latin verbs and economic theory will scoff at the idea of pupils learning about mortgages and savings accounts. Equally, those who believe that education is all about skills may well argue that schools are generically equipping pupils to deal with the business of life, and donít need to waste time teaching the details.

Personally I think that teaching schoolchildren about handling money is an excellent idea. Iíve watched a number of primary schools doing it and seen how much the children love it and are motivated by studying something so useful. But Iím not sure whether a whole GSCE is a good idea, and do not even think such a qualification actually exists, although I know a GCSE equivalent is run by the ifs School of Finance.

I think you need to go into school with your son and ask either his form tutor or the relevant teacher to explain exactly what this so-called GCSE exam offer is, what its curriculum consists of, and what taking it will mean for his other GCSE choices. It could well be that your son has got the wrong end of the stick altogether and no such course is on offer, or, if it is, it might be something that comes under a more general life skills curriculum. If not, and it is a serious GCSE-style offer, I would tread cautiously. Itís not a well-known qualification, so you need to help him consider the implications of taking it carefully.