We'd have lessons on how crap life can be, how unfair it is sometimes, how out of our hands our own wellbeing can feel. We'd hear from real people who have had the hardest of knocks and others who have made the worst decisions and lived with the consequences.
We'll have interactive workshops on how we can create our own luck. Inspirational speakers will talk about their histories of homelessness and how they learned they had no-one to depend on but themselves. We'll set up social programmes run by the older students to help the younger ones, and reflect on what it means to both parties.
In IT lessons, kids will create apps that help people who have had their benefits sanctioned. Programmes will assess users' needs and signpost what help is available.
Maths lessons will crossover with business studies and kids will launch social enterprises. They will research customers' needs and build financial plans, researching different forms of credit and assessing the costs and risks against each.
In English and media studies, they will produce magazines and web content that is socially useful. They will become skilled in researching and evaluating. They will distinguish objective fact from subjective argument, and be able to present both after analysis.
We won't teach much at all on financial capability but the students will learn all they need.
First and foremost, they will learn about personal responsibility. No-one will leave thinking the world owes them a living. Most will leave recognising the potential they hold in their own hands to achieve the life they want. They will understand what that costs, what the risks are, and where to turn if things don't work out right first time.
They will understand what independence means... how earning is key to this... how skills are key to this... how education is key to those.
We will break negative habits before they take root for good. We'll spend all the time set aside for financial education on lessons practicing good decision-making, understanding the short and long-term consequences of different choices.
We will create school-leavers with skills for leadership, management and good self-governance. They will make better life choices than our generation on jobs, relationships and politics. But most important of all, without teaching them, they will all be able to make sound financial judgements because they will have the tools and the inclination to do so.
The above is a bit of fun but, given our special report on financial education for young people, it was interesting to think about re-purposing what we’ve learnt from producing a magazine to engage people with their financial wellbeing. Quids in! readers are a tough crowd and not many of us want to be lectured. We have to appeal to people's interests and start from there. A celeb staring back from the coffee table encourages readers to open the mag (in a way a PDF never will from an inbox) and then we start a drip feed of ‘Did you know’s.
This approach has been partially borne out by two recent reports; JRF’s Psychological Perspectives on Poverty and the RSA’s Wired for Imprudence. Both start on the premise that people who are trapped in poverty or a cycle of poor financial decision-making are, first and foremost, people. They have the same human make-up and flaws as everyone else.
Maybe it says more about me but Wired for Imprudence reminds me how poor financial decision-making is about as human as those unpracticed drinkers at the Christmas party who end up snogging a colleague: Befuddled by so much going on, they don’t think about the consequences and when they do, convince themselves it’ll be alright – after all, you only live once, they did it last year (without too much fall-out) and, anyway, everyone else is at it!
Now imagine you've had a terrible week. You've picked up your dole money (rent money now included) and seeing those ‘fabulous’ shoes… In short, it seems like a good idea at the time.
Where, for me, Wired for Imprudence falls short is in suggesting that financial capability is about knowing how to do ‘the right thing’. The JRF report has better insight on this: People from chaotic, rather hand-to-mouth backgrounds are often programmed from childhood to fail. Capability is sometimes about unlearning short-term strategies that are costly in the long-term. It’s about seeing the woods for the trees and having the means to process 'good' decisions.
Both reports suggest that teaching financial education can be futile. There are more fundamental blockages to doing what we might call 'the right thing' than knowing how to budget or read a wage slip (which I heard was taught in one school). What young people need is to understand what's at stake, and the tools to work things out for themselves and seek help when they need it.