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New staff are off the menu

WHO is to teach the generation weaned on chocolate, chips, crisps and colas how to live healthily? It may not be home economics teachers if present trends continue.

A survey by the Institute of Consumer Sciences, based on returns from more than 300 Scottish secondaries, has revealed an acute shortage of home economics staff, threatening the subject's place in the curriculum and jeopardising key health targets.

Alarming gaps in staffing will almost certainly be exacerbated as the vast bulk of staff reach retirement. Two out of three were trained in the 1960s and 1970s.

This year local authorities have been looking for around 50 teachers, with several searching in vain. Edinburgh alone is advertising for four staff this week.

A spokeswoman said: "There is currently a shortage in qualified home economics staff not just in Edinburgh but right across Scotland.

Unfortunately, there are very few people qualifying in the field so the few graduates who are coming through the system are highly sought after."

The crisis has prompted a high-powered meeting early next month involving the Scottish Executive, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, local authorities and teacher education institutions.

Matthew MacIver, GTC chief executive, said: "There is an issue here and it's something we will be looking at. It is not just about immediate supply but equipping classes for the foreseeable future."

An Institute of Consumer Sciences spokeswoman said: "There is a serious shortage against a background where home economics courses are very successful and kids are responding well. A number of schools are having to lose courses in S1 and S2 because they cannot get a member of staff. It's heartbreaking."

The GTC is believed to be looking at whether entrance qualifications are too restrictive. But home economists blame the universities for cutting degree courses that can lead to teacher training. Glasgow Caledonian, for example, is phasing out one of its courses.

Some also suggest hidden agendas higher up the policy-making chain to downgrade home economics. Only a handful of students are now training on the two courses at Strathclyde and Aberdeen universities. Yvonne Dewhurst, subject tutor at Aberdeen, has only four students this year after her subject was deemed non-priority.

Tomorrow (Saturday) she is organising a national conference in Dundee for 300 home economists where the shortage will be raised. "Home economics is a contemporary subject and the uptake is increasing. It's the only place where the theory of healthy eating can be put into practice," she said.

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