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TitleThe Teaching of Economics in Schools
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Report of a Joint Committee of
The Royal Economic Society

The Association of University Teachers of Economics
The Economics Association


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32. In the case of quantitative methods, it is the essential tech-
niques of handling quantitative data which it is important to
convey at the schools level. Paradoxically, though up-to-date
data may be of importance in motivating the pupil, in stimulat-
ing interest and in helping the pupil to see the immediate
relevance and applications of techniques, the data themselves
are of little or no educational value. It is important to acquire
the more permanent capacity and equipment to handle such
data and to understand the statistical inter-relations of certain
phenomena, but not to memorise data which are rapidly

33. In the view of the Committee the quantitative tech-
niques which should be taught to all A-level candidates in
economics should be confined to those which impose relatively
limited strain on the abilities of candidates who are not other-
wise mathematically minded. We suggest that the teaching
and examining in this field shall cover:

(i) Understanding of the general characteristics and
limitations of the main sources from which economic data
are obtained; the imperfections and margins of error of

(ii) Problems of measuring change; measurement of
price changes; measurement of real changes; difficulties
caused by seasonal or climatic variations; simple methods
of eliminating them.

(iii) The logical problems of the use of quantitative
data to interpret causal relationships; the broad methods
of attempting this (but not the detailed techniques of
actually doing it); the validity of such operations and the
limitations of the inferences that can be made.

(iv) The choice of appropriate techniques for handling
quantitative problems of different kinds.

34. The present pattern of sixth-form teaching in economics
is determined partly by the A-level syllabus, but more by a
tradition of external examinations and of teaching for such
examinations. It is not as easy in economics as in some other
subjects to limit the scope of teaching and examination by
definition of what is or is not included. One cannot, as in
many mathematical syllabuses, define the techniques included
or excluded by naming them. One cannot, as in history,
define the periods of data that will be included or excluded;
any attempt to limit the extent of use of backward-looking data
would impose greater and not less burden on a teacher.
Furthermore, the Committee is agreed that the A-level syllabus
and still more the examination papers, while they should insist


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upon a thorough treatment of the core of the subject as des-
cribed above, should also leave room for the individual teacher
to develop around it, and in contact with it, his own selection of
subject-matter, deriving from opportunities afforded by his
school's location, inquiries pursued by his pupils, and his own
personal interests within the subject. Reforming the syllabus
is important and there is appended to this report a draft syllabus
illustrating the points here made. But the more important move
required is to change the tradition of teaching and examining, and
to these problems we address ourselves in the following sections.


35. The above treatment of the essentials of school economics
gives to reasoning in terms of a model the central place in
teaching as well as making particular simple models the core
of the material to be taught. It should provide the habitual
mode of organising thought and data, whatever the material
put before the pupils in any school. There is only one other
general precept of universal application. Any systematic
teaching of economics must start from the need to think ration-
ally about all the various aspects of economic life and to sub-
stitute logical reasoning for emotional preconceptions. It must
distinguish the value judgments that go into the specification of
objectives from the principles of optimisation, both in balancing
objectives against each other and in determining how the chosen
objectives can most economically be achieved. It must dis-
tinguish the extent to which conclusions derive in whole or part
from built-in value judgments on the one hand and from logical
reasoning on the other.

36. These essential considerations should, in our view, dic-
tate the general character of the competence in methods of
economic reasoning and analysis which it is desirable to incul-
cate. But they do not in the same sense dictate the teaching
methods by which they should be inculcated. The greater part
of economics is essentially abstract. But abstract reasoning
does not come naturally to all students. Many, probably
indeed most, students can best be brought to understand and
accept abstract and generalised propositions by approaching
them first through more concrete examples of a general prin-
ciple in its application to cases within their own everyday
experience. Many others are motivated in their studies of
economics to a much greater extent by interest either in national
economic policies or in things of local and domestic concern to
them personally. Their interest will be captured and held
only if it is clear that economic reasoning and analysis can help


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represented and of the extent to which statements which may
be true of small components of a large aggregate may not be
true of the large aggregate itself.


(1) Institutions which in general improve the working of
markets: commodity markets; capital markets; the monetary
and banking system and its control by the Bank of England;
foreign exchange markets; labour exchanges; advertisement
of goods, vacant posts, etc.; their effects upon the best use of
economic resources; the effects, good and bad, of speculation
in markets.

(2) Institutions created by the Government to provide
common services: public utility services; roads and transport
facilities; local authority services; health, education and other
social services; the financing of and methods of paying for such
services and the relation of such services to the economy.

(3) Institutions which have the purpose of modifying the
workings of a market economy: trade unions; employers'
federations; private monopolies; their possible effects, good
or bad, upon the best use of economic resources and the distri-
bution of incomes.

(4) Institutions and legislation designed to restrain the
opportunities of individuals or institutions to exploit the com-
munity: the monopolies commission; the industrial relations
legislation; incomes policy, etc.

Candidates will be expected to show understanding of the
ways in which institutions affect the working of the economy
rather than precise detail about the workings of individual


In this field the purpose will be to test the candidate's
understanding of the nature and limitations of the data on
which economic decisions must be based, and of the more
elementary ways in which such data can be handled and
presented so as better to permit interpretation and comparison.

(I) Understanding of the general characteristics of the
main sources from which economic data are obtained: the
imperfections and margins of error of data.

(2) Problems of measuring change: measurement of


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price changes; measurement of real changes; time series;
difficulties caused by seasonal or climatic variations and
methods of eliminating them.

(3) Problems of measuring the average level and the
distribution of some phenomenon.

(4) The logical problems of the use of economic data
to interpret causal relationships: the simpler methods of
attempting this, scatter diagrams, lines fitted by inspection
(but not the detailed techniques of calculating regression) ;
the validity of such operations and the limitations of the
inferences that can be made.

(5) The use of appropriate techniques for handling
problems of different kinds. The presentation of quan-
titative data: the use of graphs, tables, frequency distribu-
tions in summarising and organising data.

The purpose in this field will be to test the candidate's ability
to interpret quantitative data and to apply to data such simple
methods of adjustment and analysis as will make it possible to
extract from the data a maximum of information. It will not
require mathematical analysis or special facility in computation.


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