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Home economics off back-burner

Home economics teachers believe they have halted the slide in their subject and experts suspect the increased publicity given to food safety may partly account for the apparent revival in its fortunes.

But delegates to the annual conference of the Institute of Home Economics in Glasgow on Saturday heard from a leading academic that the value of cooking has to be rediscovered as a cultural issue. Annie Anderson, professor of food choice at Dundee University, said too many Scots still looked on cooking as something to "loath and hate".

The latest figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority reveal that the remorseless decline in the subject from 22.7 Higher presentations per 1, 000 pupils in 1991 to a low of 12.7 in 1994 is has been reversed by an upward trend from a rate of 16.7 in 1995 to 17.4 in 1996.

This year's exam diet looks as though the trend is continuing with more than 800 Higher grade presentations compared with 570 last year. The number of Standard grade entries at 11,000 is just short of the 1991 level, although that represents only one in six of the fourth-year age-group.

Eileen Gillan, chairman of the Institute of Home Economics, who is adviser in North Lanarkshire, put the change down to effective teaching, improved courses which are not "paper-bound" and the fact that home economics is a good preparation for the jobs market in an increasingly service-dominated economy.

Ms Gillan predicts an even rosier future as the new textiles and clothing curriculum pack, launched in April, begins to bridge the gender gap. Boys were as excited as girls at using technologically based manufacturing systems which do the work that sewing machines used to do, she said.

Frances Gallagher, adviser in Glasgow, believes the subject is increasingly seen as a passport to jobs which in itself will help to raise achievement. "If the economy of the country rests more firmly on hospitality and tourism, it should help to give home economics a clearer perspective," she said.

Angus Forrester of the Scottish Qualifications Authority said that scares over food hygiene and continuing concern over the Scottish diet have helped teachers promote the subject.

There was more good news for home economics this week when it was confirmed that Northern College has stepped in to plug the gap left when Jordanhill said there would be no training courses for home economics next session. The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has now allowed Northern College to increase its quota of home economics students.

* A motion at this weekend's Educational Institute of Scotland annual conference calls for primary schools to have specialist home economics teachers.

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