Joanna Jarvis had a variety of roles in community education before deciding to change her career direction.

She had a passion for baking and cake decoration so she set up her own business creating home-baked cakes and running cake decoration classes. Then the pandemic hit, and a radical rethink was necessary.

She turned the crisis into a personal triumph by gaining the qualifications she needed to secure a place on the PGDE Secondary (Home Economics) at QMU. 

Joanna tells us more about her career background, the steps she took in preparation for postgraduate study, and her experience of studying home economics at QMU.  

So what were you doing before you came to QMU?  

I graduated in 1997 with a BSc (Hons) Health Studies and had planned to go on to study health promotion. After volunteering at a local youth project, I decided to focus on youth and community work and I completed a distance learning PGDip in Community Education in 2005.

Prior to studying with QMU, I was running a successful home-based cake decoration business making bespoke cakes and teaching cake decoration classes. I started the business in 2010, developing it to fit around other commitments, then final gave up my day job as a project operations manager to train in patisserie and focus on my cake business fully. 

In 2020, Covid-19 lockdown temporarily closed my business as cake classes and wedding cakes were postponed overnight.

I reflected on my former career in youth and community work and considered the reality of becoming a Home Economics teacher which had been a long-held ambition. As it had been almost twenty years since I last studied, I contacted QMU to find out what I needed to meet the entry requirements. I required Higher English and a top up module in nutrition.

I was also advised to complete a sewing course to develop my skills. I completed these courses online during 20/21 and I was thrilled to pass them all, receiving an A grade for Higher English. Studying had given me a renewed sense of purpose during lockdown and helped to refocus my career goals.

Gaining a place at QMU to study PDGE (Secondary) Home Economics was the cherry on top! 

What attracted you to the teaching profession? 

I have held a long-term ambition to become a teacher, to share knowledge and skills with young people to help them develop into successful and confident individuals. This desire comes from my experience as a youth worker, supporting young people who are on the fringes of education and need additional support to recognise and achieve their goals. 

What is it about home economics that interests you and why do you think it is an important subject? 

I am drawn to home economics because of its practical nature in teaching young people essential life skills for food, health, and wellbeing in the 21st century. Home economics addresses several issues and concerns which affect young people. Social media is a major influence on the lives of young people and their relationship with food, health, and fashion. Home economics raises awareness of local and global real-life issues relating to health, sustainable food and textile use and the rise in cost-of-living impact on food poverty and insecurity to name a few. 

What have you really enjoyed about this course?

Deepening my knowledge and understanding about the curriculum, professional practice, and the social justice issues pertinent to becoming a Home Economics teacher in Scotland. I was interested in research around the topic of inclusion and additional support needs, and particularly enjoyed the practical elements on campus. I also gained a huge amount of classroom-based experience by completing both school placements. 

What have the challenges been? 

The most challenging aspect for me has been returning to study at postgraduate level after a long gap. The start of the course was a steep learning curve, particularly getting to grips with things like technology, essay writing, reading and research. At times it was overwhelming.

However, with support from QMU services such as the Effective Learning Service and which provides one-to-one support with aspects of learning, and the excellent support of course lecturers, I successfully completed the PGDE.  

What's been the biggest lesson you've learned? 

Make use of the QMU support services available and discuss any concerns with the course lecturers; they are there to help. Plan and manage time effectively, it is a fast-paced course and it is essential to be well organised, particularly during the school placements. 

How has the course stretched you? 

When I started the course, I was lacking in confidence and doubting my abilities. The course has forced me out of my comfort zone, to embrace new technology, engage in critical thinking and reflection and develop experience and practice as a student Home Economics teacher. I have a renewed sense of confidence and a spring in my step ready to take on my next challenge as a probationer teacher. 

How have you juggled studying with other personal commitments? 

I took a break from my business to focus on completing my studies and school placement activities, which really helped to manage the workload. My family have been extremely supportive during my studies, especially my husband, who has held the fort at home and boosted my confidence in moments of doubt. 

Did you enjoy the practical side of the course? 

The two high school placements were hugely beneficial in shaping my knowledge and understanding of teaching home economics, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I learned to use a sewing machine in January 2021, and was so pleased to be able to share my skills on my first placement making drawstrings bags, fleece hats and Christmas stockings. The practical outdoor learning experiences which were held in the grounds at the Newhailes House and Gardens in Musselburgh, with all the course lecturers and students present, was such a positive way to begin and end a learning journey and share experiences. 

What support services did you find helpful at QMU as a student?

Returning to study after a long break was very challenging. Support from QMU library and Effective Learning Services has been invaluable. Alongside the support and encouragement from the course lecturers. 

What advice would you give others thinking about embarking on a career in home economics? 

If your practical skills are a bit rusty, take a sewing course and/or brush up on your cooking skills. Do your homework and research the curriculum, there is a lot more to it than cooking and sewing. Visit a home economics department in a secondary school and get some school-based experience.

Start reading about food and health in education and find out about the big issues, like tackling childhood obesity or addressing sustainability in textiles and fashion.

If, like me, you have been out of education for a while, you can get advice on the right courses and support for you. Above all, don’t let anything hold you back from achieving your dreams. Go for it! The PGDE (Secondary) Home Economics at QMU has been a fantastic experience and I would highly recommend it. Good luck! 


"If, like me, you have been out of education for a while, you can get advice on the right courses and support for you. Above all, don’t let anything hold you back from achieving your dreams. Go for it! The PGDE (Secondary) Home Economics at QMU has been a fantastic experience and I would highly recommend it."
Joanna Jarvis, PGDE Secondary (Home Economics)

[Story added in June 2022]