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News Pupil insights: making politics and economics engaging in the classroom
Winners of the Chance to be Chancellor competition are giving George Osborne a run for his money with their Youth Budget. They offer views on how schools can engage students in politics
Impose a fat tax on food, raise national insurance and invest in adult apprenticeships. Those are the views, not of the UK government, but of Britain's young people when asked what they would include in the 2013 budget. If the economy was put in the hands of the majority of 14 to 18 year olds surveyed for the Chance to be Chancellor competition, we'd be paying a £100 billion more a year in tax than the current government has so far imposed.
The Citizenship Foundation's Youth Budget may not thrill readers already feeling the squeeze on wages during a bumpy recession, but the survey of 1,400 youngsters is a revealing insight into the political and economic views of the people who will be paying for the decisions made by today's policy makers for most of their future lives.
The Guardian Teacher Network was keen to find out more about the winners of this year's competition and how their school helped engage them in politics, economics and citizenship.
So, we headed to Downing Street for a chat with overall winner James Read-Tannock and the four runners-up after they shared their ideas with Osborne himself at Number 11.
James Read-Tannock, 17, from Arnold Hill School and Technology College, Nottingham: Key budget ideas include reversing previous increase in air passenger duty, reducing corporation tax by 1% and scrapping initial investment in Trident replacement. He would also increase community sentencing and scrap the renewable heat incentive.
My budget theme was very different from everyone else's. Because it was the Youth Budget, I decided we should be going for long-term investment. I want to deregulate industry. We have this massive problem of youth unemployment. By deregulating, you are allowing employers the ability to employ more people. For me, that's more important than anything else. We need to get more people off the dole and into work.
We had a lesson where we actually used the Youth Budget as a teaching tool. Overall, economics as a subject in school is really useful. It encourages a lot of debate. There aren't any black or white answers, especially in macro economics. It really develops students' ability to think critically about big questions, because we can all make an impact.
We live in a democracy. It's vital young people are not complacent about the economy and taking part in the political process. I definitely think there should be more economics taught in schools. Although some of it can be quite difficult to understand, things like personal finance should definitely be included. Everybody is going to have to deal with that at some point. As well as that, it's also important to teach people about the broader picture because then young people are more able to create educated opinions on issues which affect us all.
Lucinda Chamberlain, 16, from Withington Girls' School, Manchester: Key budget ideas include increasing national insurance contributions, scrapping the 10% cut to council tax benefits, investing in early education and adult apprenticeships, and cutting spending on new carbon capture & storage (CCS) technology.
What I was most passionate about was one of the least popular policies. I wanted to reverse increases to air passenger duty for the same reason I would reduce corporation tax - to make the UK a more attractive place for international businesses to come and work. I would also increase national insurance by 1% as that provides £9 billion a year and helps run essential social services. With an ever aging population, that is now a huge issue. I definitely wouldn't want pensions to be cut. I tried to look at more long term policies rather than short term solutions.
My economics teacher really encouraged us to get involved in this competition and my politics teacher also strongly urged us to take part, especially if you want to go into politics. In the future, I would like to be the chief secretary of the civil service. So, Jeremy Haywood's job right now. Also, my brother is a councillor so I have him to blame for getting me into politics and really passionate about it.
Open discussions in class really helped fire our interest in politics and economics. My politics teacher is openly Labour and I'm a Liberal Democrat. But she is careful not to stifle anyone else's opinions in class. She is really open to other people airing their opinions in lessons and that is particularly helpful for essay writing. It helps us see the other point view which we hadn't considered before. She really inspired us to get into debating.
Agatha-Christie Onwuzuruike, 16, from Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Secondary School, London: Key budget ideas include an increase in tax allowance and reduction in the the basic rate limit, reduction of VAT to the previous level of 17.5%, tax relief for research and creative industries, as well as scrapping the free schools programme and selling off surplus military land.
I'm very much interested in development and, having studied economics at AS level, I realised you can't have economics without development and you can't develop a country without studying economics. Having been to an LSE lecture recently, it made me realise politics has such an impact on economics and both of them go hand in hand. We are encouraged by teachers to go to lectures, but it's very much up to the pupil.
Debate is a really important way of getting students interested in politics and economics. You shouldn't just agree with what everyone says. Economics is one of those subjects where you can have an opinion and that opinion has a massive impact on everyone else. Our school encourages us to get involved by having an economics society. It's about getting the whole school community interested in the subject.
Ben Seed, 17, from Royal Grammar School, Guildford: Key budget ideas include reducing corporation tax for companies that create more jobs to help reduce the current high unemployment, introducing a 1% 'unhealthy food tax' and increasing pupil premium.
I like the idea of the unhealthy food tax. I'm all about promoting the workforce because I think that's the most important thing in the economy. I'd also like to start apprenticeships and promote those because people can then go on to create more jobs and boost the economy.
In all our economics lessons, we engage in open discussions about various issues. We sometimes have quizzes on news that's been happening during the week. It encourages us to read the newspapers and pay attention. There's also prizes for people who do the best. So that really encourages us to get to grips with everything that is happening.
Jake Pitt, 16, from The Blue School, Wells: Key budget ideas include giving those leaving the armed forces free education or training to enable them to properly reintegrate, increasing the top rate of tax to 50% on those earning over £150,000, capping total household benefits and reducing police spending.
I got involved in the Youth Budget through an organisation called the UK Youth Parliament, which is about engaging young people in the democratic process. A lot of it comes down to economics. A lot of decisions made by the government, with regards to young people, affects the economy. The biggest one being youth unemployment. My youth budget was about fairness. I think that even though we are in recession and have these austerity measures, we can still invest and create a fairer society. The only way we can have a future economy which is much stronger than our boom and bust system is one that is based on real egality.
In my budget, I therefore wanted to increase the amount that the top 1% pay in tax because I think those with the broadest shoulders should bear the biggest loads. We should also cut Trident because it wastes £3 billion of taxpayers' money a year and the threat of Britain defaulting on its debts is much more of a threat than a nuclear war.