I love the fact that my children enjoy spending time in the kitchen with me, cooking up all manner of goodies. It gives us a great opportunity to spend time together, chat, learn about food and provides many other learning opportunities too. But it has made me think about how well we are equipping our children for the future and what food education is like in school nowadays.
I may not have the knowledge to write about this topic but I immediately knew who I could ask! I’m delighted to welcome Jules Gilbert from Butcher, Baker who runs a food education business, Apple & Thyme.
The food education field is ever changing. Even within the 4 years I’ve been working in it I have seen huge changes. Primary and secondary education cookery schemes have been brought in, then quietly discarded (Licence to Cook is a perfect example). In the secondary sector a new curriculum was designed with loads of teachers being retrained and food technology classrooms being revamped, then the new government was brought in and the scheme was scrapped. I’ve recently worked with a middle school that had the most amazing food technology classroom with loads of enthusiastic children, but no teacher available to teach them.
In primary learning about cookery is not an essential part of the curriculum, but some aspects of food appear in Design & Technology. Often the food education is part of after-school activities that can be run independently or through various schemes like Let’s Get Cooking and Food for Life Partnership. In secondary it is usually part of Design & Technology where the students rotate between the other D&T subjects, meaning they may only take part in food technology for a short part of the academic school year. This however isn’t a core subject and doesn’t mean they physically cook. Food technology can be about the process of food making and packaging design. This does vary very much from school to school and there are some schools out there who do an amazing job with teaching their students how to cook.
When I took over a particular primary school’s cookery club 4 years ago I wanted to transform it. Take it from what appeared to be a glorified assembly job, disguised as cooking, to something that children can learn from. Cookery is one of these fabulous cross-curricular subjects that is accessible to all children. When children are cooking they often don’t realise that they are also learning maths, science along with geography and PSHE. Not forgetting all the superb key and fine motor skills you get from cooking.
Cooking in schools is about adaptation and compromise. Many primary schools don’t have the facilities to do full on cooking so it means adapting recipes to work with the equipment available. I am now the queen of adapting recipes to make them work with limited equipment. In primary, some teachers may not have the knowledge or feel comfortable teaching cookery. I teach all aspects of cooking from the cookies to the fruit salad. There are skills that can be learnt from making biscuits that you can’t learn from making fruit salad and vice versa. Of course if we are equipping them to be future foodies it is partially down to the school. Like any subject in education, a superb teacher can engage pupils and make them passionate about the subject.
I’m from that generation where cookery was being phased out of schools and being replaced with food technology and once you were in year 10 it wasn’t encouraged if you were academic and certainly not if you were a boy. One of the first lessons they now do in secondary school is how to make a cup of tea, because shockingly many children don’t know how to. I’m not sure I believe cookery lessons should be about designing packaging or biscuits, but should be about equipping our kids with essential life skills; even if it is just learning basic cookery skills to help them get by.
To me cooking in school is important. Food is life, it is our soul. We need food to survive so surely one of our life essentials deserves paramount importance. I’m not saying every child should be the next Jamie or Nigella, but they should have the confidence to make themselves a decent meal and be equipped with the knowledge to make informed choices about food.
Do you think we are doing enough to teach our children how to cook?