'Cooked' figures hide staff crisis

31st October 1997 at 00:00
The misuse of statistics is disguising a staffing crisis in home economics, a survey by the professional institute for the subject has warned. Many of those listed as teaching home economics are no longer doing so. Some are dead, some retired and others have been promoted out of the classroom.

The Institute of Home Economics polled 310 teachers in 74 secondary schools in three west of Scotland authorities. In all three, teachers are misleadingly recorded. In one council the dead, retired and promoted amount to 44 per cent of the total. In another the figure is 43 per cent and in the third 33 per cent.

Eileen Gillan, chairman of the institute and an adviser in North Lanarkshire, says that councils gave "names against schools they were supposedly in but I happen to know that many have been out of these schools for some time, or teachers are set down as being in one authority when they are actually employed in another area".

Ms Gillan asks: "Is this the state of the art statistical base on which decisions are taken about how many teachers the country is going to need in a few years' time?" She points out that for the second year running Strathclyde University is not training home economics teachers. Northern College took in extra students for home economics because of slack in other subjects, but for this session only.

The age profile of teachers also gives rise to concern. In all three authorities the largest number were trained in the 1970s, with far fewer dating from the eighties and very few from this decade. About 20 per cent of older teachers started in the sixties and in one council four permanent staff trained in the fifties. "They must be very robust," Ms Gillan commented.

The survey also shows "a significant reliance on temporary staff". Among those trained in the nineties, 40 per cent were "supply" teachers. Ms Gillan also points out that 40 per cent of those who were 1970s students are temporary teachers whose experience may be outdated. "Those whose career has not been permanent may be insufficiently qualified to meet the demands of tomorrow's curriculum or pupils' needs and expectations."

She concludes: "Young people who want to establish a career in teaching are finding it impossible to do so while those who have propped up the system for over 25 years are not likely to do so much longer. When will the impasse end?" The problem may not be confined to one subject, Ms Gillan says. "Home economics is not unique. We could be running into a serious crisis if the teacher training system is not turning out students and if a false impression is being created by the statistics of those who are genuinely available to teach. "

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