Home economics' new recipe;Comment;Opinion

9th February 1996 at 00:00
A few years ago home economics appeared to be in crisis. It was under pressure in the timetable of many secondary schools and was unattractive to abler pupils. Poor results in the Higher examination of 1991 focused attention on a subject that seemed to be losing its way.

But last week's report from the Inspectorate in the Effective Learning and Teaching series is optimistic. Based on visits to 150 home economics departments over 10 years, it has been able to chart the ups and downs. On the academic front, the decision two years ago by the Scottish Universities Council on Entrance to recognise Higher home economics as part of a candidate's portfolio is credited with giving a boost to abler pupils, although few of them are boys.

The technological aspects of the subject are being emphasised to unparalleled extent, and that gives a solid base to the content of the subject as well as allowing up-to-date methods of teaching and learning - for example, through group work - to be widely introduced. It is an ideal area in which to pursue vocationally oriented modules.

None the less, problems of acceptability remain. The inspectors argue that pupil experience in the first two years of secondary largely determines uptake at Standard grade and Higher level. Principal teachers are chided for not being as skilful ambassadors for their subject as they might be. Perhaps they should take lessons from their colleagues in the social subjects where rivalry between history, geography and modern studies has led to sophisticated recruiting among the next session's S3 pupils.

Acceptability goes deeper than departmental public relations. Home economics still has to face parental attitudes, which mirror those towards physical education. Despite the vocational opportunities that ought to arise in a country dependent on service industries and despite the almost obsessive attention to health and diet, there is a resistance to equating study of home economics with, say, physics or a modern language.

The technological emphasis, especially at more advanced levels, and the integration within the Higher course of the former "fabrics and fashion" and "food and nutrition" should help, but parental memories are of "domestic science", which usually was for the less academic streams. Prestige, which will be particularly important among the wide range of choices available through Higher Still, will take time in coming and will depend on merit within the subject itself and success in its teaching.

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