Home economics is starved of teachers

Home economics and music are now the two biggest shortage subjects in secondary teaching, according to unpublished figures for teacher recruitment.

The TESS has learned that, by contrast, English and maths have a surplus of applicants. This will comfort ministers who have targeted these subjects in their drive to raise literacy and numeracy standards by cutting class sizes in early secondary.

Computing, physics and technical education, which have had trouble attracting numbers in the past, are now hitting their targets. Iain Smith, the dean of education at Strathclyde University, suggests this may be due to mature entrants making a career change.

However, in the week when unhealthy eating and child obesity have once again hit the headlines, serious concerns have emerged over difficulties in recruiting home economics teachers, particularly as almost 50 per cent of those teaching it are already aged over 50 - a higher proportion than in any other subject.

Education authorities said they had places for 81 home economics probationers, but teacher education institutions (TEIs) trained only 50 PGCE students. And in music, the authorities wanted 75 music probationers but TEIs produced only 57 student teachers.

By contrast, this year schools had 228 places for probationer English teachers and 214 for maths. TEIs took 332 English and 261 maths PGCE students. This means that the Scottish Executive has fully funded the additional 104 English and 47 maths induction year placements this year.

A spokesman for the Executive said: "These figures have huge caveats. They are out of date and do not provide a reliable picture of actual vacancies.

"In English and maths they have to be looked at in the light of class size commitments which will need to be met in 2007."

He added: "We recognise that teacher supply in home economics has been tighter in recent years than we would like. However, the latest teacher vacancies survey showed that only one per cent of home economics posts had been vacant for over three months.

"Intakes to postgraduate home economics teacher-training places have increased from 17 to 55 in the last three years and Dundee University has started a PGCE course in September."

Yvonne Dewhurst, a lecturer in education and home economics tutor at Aberdeen University, said education faculties in the north of Scotland struggled to recruit to their home economics PGCE course because there were very few qualifying undergraduate degrees offered in universities outwith the central belt.

Aberdeen University now offers a two-year distance learning PGCE programme, but it has failed to attract sufficient numbers for home economics. Dundee University has launched a new PGCE in home economics, which has five entrants, making it the third TEI in Scotland to offer the course.

Ms Dewhurst suggested that one problem is that youngsters who are doing Higher home and food technology find that it is not seen as an appropriate Higher for entry into higher education by some universities.

She said there is also a public perception problem about what home economics involves. She received numerous calls from people with degrees in hospitality who thought this was a qualifying degree for home economics teaching, when it is not.

Lesley Beaton, lecturer in health education and home economics in Strathclyde University's education faculty, where the bulk of PGCE home economics teachers are trained, called for extra support from the Scottish Executive to prioritise recruitment.

She argued that, with the prominence now being given to health and child obesity, home economics should be the main delivery mechanism for information about nutrition, healthy eating, and just showing children that tasting food could be fun.

Meanwhile, Graeme Wilson, secretary of the Scottish Association for Music Education, said there was a general concern about both the quantity of music teachers in Scotland and the quality of some of them.

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