Home economics

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The Independent Online

What is it? It's not just about cooking. The new home-economics A-level is about the management of resources such as food, finances and energy to meet individual and family needs. As a result, the course is very broad and there is a lot of choice available. You might study provision for the homeless, dabble in nutrition science or concentrate on consumer studies.

Why do it? Because it'll teach you lots of useful life skills, such as organising your own accommodation, budget and bills.

What skills do you need? You don't need to have GCSE home economics. The most important skills are problem-solving and decision-making. For example, in the exam, you might be given the scenario of a student going to university. You would need to work out how to meet their needs, finding them accommodation and working out how to stay within their budget.

How much practical work is there? There's one unit of coursework at AS and A2. Usually, it's a research-based investigation, such as looking into the provision for the homeless in the local area or comparing the merits of convenience food products with those of home-made food.

Ratio of coursework to exams: 40:60

Is it hard? "It is a demanding course," says Jean Marshall, chair of examiners in home economics at OCR. "The students have to be self-motivated when they are doing the coursework."

Who takes it? More girls than boys, but it is becoming increasingly popular among 21st-century males.

How cool is it? "Ten years ago home economics was a formal practical cookery course, which was then assessed with a practical exam," says Marshall. "It's much cooler than that now and can be tailored to suit every student's interests."

Added value: It's very relevant to your future life, and so flexible that it could turn you into the next budding Jamie Oliver, give you an idea for a multi-million pound business venture, or lead you into the charity sector.

What subjects go with it? All subjects – it complements both arts and sciences.

What degrees does it lead to? Food and health science, the social sciences and design-based degrees.

Will it set you up for a brilliant career? "It's such a broad course that it makes students very multiskilled," says Marshall. "This generation will not stay on a single career path so the course is a great training for later life."

What do the students say? "I did my coursework on the dietary needs of diabetics," says Yvonne Woodward, 16, who is studying AS home economics at Baverstock School in Birmingham. "I researched the availability of diabetic foods at local stores and I made some sugar-free blueberry muffins."

Which awarding bodies offer it? AQA, CCEA and OCR.

How widely available is it around the country? Fairly widely. Marshall estimates that one in three schools or colleges offer the home-economics course.