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Spy kids

Jul 30, 2012, 03:58 AM
Authors : Clare Truman
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Post date : Jul 30, 2012, 03:58 AM

The Daily Telegraph is worried HMRC are brainwashing children. The target of the newspaper's anger is a lesson plan that helps teachers of citizenship, like me, explain tax and National Insurance to teenagers.

This is not the first time an organisation has been accused of using free lesson plans to indoctrinate pupils; the BBC, food manufacturers and banks have faced similar charges.

But there’s no need to worry. if there is one thing my years at the chalkface have taught me, it’s that it is very difficult to condition teenagers, not least because they are so good at answering back, and it is a real strength of the Revenue's resources that they raise questions that encourage backchat... I mean, discussion.

The questions posed by the taxman include, 'What do students think about people who try to avoid paying taxes? Is it a victimless crime? What kind of penalties should such people be given when they are caught?'

Nobody asked me when I was at school; citizenship lessons didn’t exist then. We got our information about tax and politics from our parents and the papers: sources that could be misleading (and sometimes still are).

Far better for students to be given clear information from HMRC and have the opportunity to share their opinions about the rights and wrongs of it all.

As for students revealing the tax-dodging schemes of their nearest and dearest, I don’t think there is danger of that. I have a well-established 'no names' rule in my classroom, to avoid the sort of revelations that commonly occur when a group of teenagers gather to discuss issues of morality and society:

“You know Stacey in year ten, right? Well, she’s going out with Dean in year 11, and then at Tasha’s party she kissed Richard, which is well out of order ‘cause everyone knows he really likes Natalie, but she won’t go out with him ‘cause she says he’s butterz.”

If and when students do reveal personal information in class, then there are policies and guidelines that govern whether or not we should pass it on. There are a lot of such rules, but they can more or less be reduced to one simple principle: if a child is in danger or distress, tell someone; otherwise keep it to yourself.

While the jury is out on the ethics of Timmy’s dad paying the plumber in cash, I can be pretty sure it’s not causing the lad harm, and I’m not about to dob in his old man.

Of course, children have their own policies and guidelines that govern what information they pass on to teachers and those can also be bundled as, 'Don’t be a grass' – which is why any plan to use school students as tax inspectors is doomed to fail.

As anyone who has ever tried to establish who set off the stink-bomb in the sports hall on Wednesday afternoon will tell you: kids make rubbish spies.


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