31 March 2017

Roy Ballam

Managing Director and Head of Education

In September 2014, food and nutrition teaching was made compulsory for maintained schools in England for children aged 5 to 14 years for the first time. This was a positive step, enabling all children to participate in, and learn about, healthy eating, cooking and food provenance. 

However, nearly three years later we do not know that current state of our food education in schools. While we can all celebrate success and highlight case studies of good practice, we cannot, with any certainty, evidence how much food education is going on, how well it is being delivered and how effective it is. It is with this in mind, BNF, with the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation and the Food Teachers Centre, are working together to establish what’s really happening in the food education learning landscape.

BNF has always taken a proactive interest in food and nutrition education - reaching back several decades. While schools need access to good quality resources (and there is no shortage of materials), it’s vital that teachers who are educating children about food and nutrition have access to appropriate training, receiving up-to-date information and guidance on food skills.

During our research with primary school teachers last year, 7 in 10 of participating teachers had not undertaken any professional development with regard to ‘food’ during the past two years and, for those who had, the update had been on food safety only. The low level of food training continues in initial teacher training, with the D&T Association reporting that during the training year, at best a trainee might receive around three hours of D&T study (with food just being one part). There’s a lot to fit in - comprehending the subject content for around 11 subjects, studying various pedagogy approaches and developing lesson content - not to mention undertaking teaching practice.

With no formal professional support provided centrally, individual teachers and schools take on the responsibility to interpret and deliver the curriculum in their own way. This approach means that there is a risk of conflicting or misleading messages being used, and ultimately shaping pupils first understanding of food. In England alone, there are 24,372 schools, 483,000 teachers and 8.2 million pupils – so there is potential for misinformation to be disseminated on a large scale as correct, no matter the evidence base. All of this led BNF to work with Public Health England and the Department for Education to launch professional guidelines for primary teachers about the knowledge and skills required to teach food and nutrition in schools.

While BNF welcomed the Obesity Plan last year, with its emphasis of increased physical activity in primary schools, we stated at the time that we would also like to see food and nutrition education included, with teachers (and Ofsted inspectors) receiving training to enhance the important role they play in supporting the health and wellbeing of children. What’s needed is a comprehensive approach to positively support our primary teachers to undertake food and nutrition lessons in schools.

BNF believes that teachers play an important role in helping to shape children’s food understanding. This is why we will be launching a free online food teaching in primary school course – helping to address this gap in provision. The training forms part of our charitable work, as well as lasting legacy for our 50th anniversary, ensuring that teachers are confident, competent and motivated in delivering fantastic lessons that inspire children, and equip them for life.