Bad housekeeping on home economics

24th June 2005 at 01:00
ealising that there are no financial incentives for trainee teachers in shortage subjects was, for the prospective student, like having a cold shower. This astounding revelation is all the more shocking in the light of claims on the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) website. But, first, the plight of the student.

Female. Mid-forties. Mother of four children, youngest aged three.

Unquestionably with the qualifications, drive and personality to make an excellent teacher. Plans to commute from Edinburgh to Glasgow. Everything she had assimilated from the media suggested that there would be financial help to undertake her teacher training. After all, home economics is officially classified as a shortage subject, and any principal teacher of that subject will confirm the difficulty of attracting staff. It's not uncommon to have zero applicants for these jobs.

The aforementioned student was accepted for the course and, naturally, started to explore the routes to financial support. An obvious place to start is the SAAS website. Clearly stated is the fact that you may qualify for financial support if "you are taking a teacher training course in one of the shortage secondary subjects in Scotland".

Apparently in a helpful vein, it continues: "In Scotland for session 2005-2006, the shortage subjects are mathematics, English, Gaelic, modern languages, physics, technological education and home economics."

Promising? Yes indeed, if only the blurb were true. The stark truth is that not a sliver of financial support is available from the Scottish Executive.

What did its spokesperson say? Well, she struggled to extract herself from that pile of porky pies but, eventually, had to admit that no, unlike counterparts in England and Wales who may receive up to pound;7,500 in financial aid, Scottish student teachers offering subjects in the above list receive not a solitary scrap.

The spokesperson wheeled out the mantra about the drive to reduce class sizes, but what is the point of having smaller classes if there are no teachers available to take them? So there you have it - the exposure of the Executive as cheapskates, misleading to boot. This particular student may not be able to take up her place because of the lack of support, one fewer teacher in an ever decreasing pool.

The whole thing is replete with larger than life insanity. The student is apparently entitled to tax credits if she is working 16 hours a week but, hey ho, try doing that and looking after four kids and commuting to do your postgraduate teaching certificate.

Any current trainee teacher will confirm that it is simply not on. If you don't know someone in the position in which my friend finds herself, then you couldn't be expected to be aware of the gross inadequacy of the Executive's position on this one. Like me, you probably leaf through piles of official-speak about valuing education ad nauseam, but I think it's time we broadcast this big injustice.

More depressingly, the college itself has not been that helpful. Yes, she might get help with childcare costs but they can't say until just before the course starts. Travelling costs will probably be refunded but the crucial thing is to have the money up front. This whole approach is unacceptable. This woman needs to plan her own life and juggle the demands, financial and otherwise, of four children. Specifically, she needs to know if she can afford to do the course. At the moment she is being asked to walk a tightrope above a murky world of officialdom failing right, left and centre.

Quite apart from being baffling beyond comprehension and hugely upsetting for this particular student, it demonstrates a truly worrying absence of planning for the future needs of schools. Strategic thinking? Now, what's that? The challenge is just to work out where ignorance ends and stupidity begins.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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