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By Matthew Barrett
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The government e-petition website has been in the news recently, following the Commons debate on a European referendum in which an e-petition on the subject was regularly cited as justification for a referendum (erroneously, as it happens – the leading e-petition calling for a European referendum has just over 39,000 signatures, which is some way short of the 100,000 needed to be considered for debate in the House).
A fourth e-petition has just joined the ranks of those with 100,000 signatures or more – "Make financial education a compulsory part of the school curriculum".
The text of the petition is as follows:
"It's a national disgrace that in the 20 years since introducing student loans, we’ve educated our youth into debt when they go to university, but never about debt. We're a financially illiterate nation, with millions caught by misselling, overborrowing and being ripped off. Is it any surprise we’ve just had a debt imbued financial crisis. This must change. Companies spend billions on marketing and teaching their staff to sell – it's time we got buyers' training. The most cost effective way to start is to ensure every child in the country gets a basic understanding of personal finance & consumer rights before leaving school. This isn’t a large resource requirement. Some schools already do it, but the majority don’t and that needs to end. Unless it's compulsory, head teachers can’t prioritise for it. 97% of people support this, yet no one will take up the baton. We have one of the world’s most complex consumer economies; it's time our children were taught how to thrive and survive in it."
It joins petitions calling for convicted London rioters to lose all benefits, for full disclosure of all government documents relating to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, and Robert Halfon MP's campaign for cheaper fuel and petrol prices - which we learnt on Saturday morning has been denied a debate by the Backbench Business Committee.
The government (although perhaps not the Backbench Business Committee) is unlikely to be troubled by a debate on financial education in the school curriculum. Indeed, only a fortnight ago, two questions on the topic came up during Education Questions, and Ministers suggested they were already considering implementing such a proposal:
"Duncan Hames (Lib Dem, Chippenham): What his policy is on the inclusion of financial education in the mathematics GCSE.
The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): The Government are currently reviewing the national curriculum, which will go out to public consultation in the new year. We will await the outcomes of that work before making any decisions on the content of GCSE mathematics, to ensure that it aligns with the new national curriculum and reflects the core mathematical knowledge and skills that young people need.
Justin Tomlinson (Conservative, North Swindon): As part of the review, may I urge the Minister to provide an opportunity to include financial education as part of the syllabus?
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): My hon. Friend has worked tirelessly on financial education, and the all-party group on financial education for young people, which he chairs, is about to produce a report, following its inquiry into the issue. As he has said, financial education is important, and we will look carefully at his report when it is published and its conclusions will be taken into account as part of the national curriculum review and the review of personal, social and health education."
The petition is listed as having been created by Martin Lewis – the financial journalist and campaigner behind the consumer finance information website MoneySavingExpert.com. Justin Tomlinson (pictured right), the Member of Parliament for North Swindon, who asked the second question above, has agreed to sponsor the debate.