The cupboard is bare

14th May 2004 at 01:00
David Henderson reports from the home economics conference in Dundee

Key health and lifestyle targets for schools may be missed because of a continuing shortage of home economics teachers. As the nation's waistline expands inexorably, some secondaries are slimming down home economics in S1 and S2. Pupils can now take the subject for one year only.

Ministers have acknowledged recruitment problems by pushing the subject up the priority list for teacher training intakes but students willing to follow a home economics career path remain scarce.

At Aberdeen University - which with Strathclyde University trains home economics teachers - 11 of 15 places for next session remain unfilled. This year, only nine will leave Aberdeen for possible careers in the classroom.

Yvonne Dewhurst, lecturer in home economics at Aberdeen and organiser of a national conference last weekend that drew more than 300 teachers, said:

"The subject is going like a fair in the curriculum but we cannot get the teachers to teach it. It's not one or two areas, it's across Scotland.

"Departments are being asked to look at the courses they can offer. People could offer more course options for pupils but they do not have the staff.

This is sad. Home economics has a major contribution to make to diet and health education."

Part of the explanation is said to lie in the changes among first degree courses at universities and their suitability for entry to teacher training, an issue that is being investigated by the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Mrs Dewhurst said: "Home economics is a multidisciplinary subject but university courses are becoming more specialised."

Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen used to run a degree in consumer product management which dovetailed with home economics but it had now gone after a failure to attract enough students.

Mrs Dewhurst said the revision of post-16 courses had greatly expanded her subject, which was now offering "a range of very exciting contemporary courses both for vocational and academic youngsters". Numbers were increasing at different ability levels.

The popularity and changing nature of home economics are also at the heart of a dispute among teachers as the Scottish Qualifications Authority presses on with its campaign for a subject name change. Four different courses are now involved: fashion and textile technology, health and food technology, lifestyle and consumer technology, and hospitality, which schools run up to Intermediate 2.

Not many departments cover all the courses. Teachers last weekend reported that a wider range of opportunities has helped to persuade parents that the subject is worthy of serious study. Some claim that they would be happy to remove the term home economics altogether and settle for separate marketing of four quite different courses.

One in six schools which took part in an SQA survey is reported to have rebranded the subject.

Graeme Findlay, SQA qualifications manager, told the conference that its first survey last year underlined that home economics was an outdated term.

Seven out of 10 people wanted a name change and its assessment panel agreed. But teachers who replied to the survey are keen on a more modern umbrella term. "Home economics does not actually describe what the subject is all about and deters students at subject choice time," Mr Findlay said.

A forthcoming study of colleges and universities would confirm that seven out of 10 believe a name change is "desirable". Colleges said that the subject in school should be about life skills and healthy living but more time should be spent on it. A common complaint in schools was that 40 minutes a week was not enough.

Universities were concerned about moves to a more vocational Higher and how it would articulate with degree courses but the subject had more respect in academic circles than it did previously, even if the name was an issue. The emphasis needed to move from the home to industry.

Mr Findlay said a major factor against any change was the views of pupils.

They were happy with the term home economics.

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