29 November 2017

Claire Theobald
Education Services Manager

I was lucky to attend a very small village primary school. The Headteacher lived in the adjoining house and food lessons for me (and the other 5 children in my year group) were conducted in the Headteacher’s kitchen. I have fond memories of making bread and taking a turn churning home-made butter by shaking a half filled jam jar of cream for hours!  A study of Jamaica led to the production of a ‘no-bake Jamaican cake,’ which comprised a lot of dried fruit, nuts and crushed biscuits, bound together with melted chocolate and a splash of rum – perhaps not such an appropriate activity these days!  Nevertheless, engaged by the cross-curricular links, food lessons for me were an exciting and memorable experience which cemented my learning.  

Keen to pass on the memorable learning experiences I had enjoyed, I paid close attention in my Design and technology curriculum lectures at university.  Sadly, in the whole four years of my teacher training there was just one practical food session. Nevertheless, I walked away feeling inspired and determined to teach practical food lessons myself.  

In my first teaching post I taught the ‘QCA biscuit unit’.  The children enjoyed discussing the biscuits, carrying out sensory evaluations and designing their products.  As the unit progressed, the practical activity loomed and I began to feel anxious.  How was I going to make biscuits with 28 children in a primary school classroom? Fortunately, I had the support of my teaching assistant but I had to put a lot of time and thought into setting up the lesson, considering the hygiene and safety implications, organising the resources and getting the ‘wheelie oven’ down to my classroom.  It was worth it, the children were engaged and even those with more challenging behaviour were focused and committed to the task.  Despite my anxiety and the effort involved in organising the lesson, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all of us and gave me the confidence to go on and teach more food lessons – fruit salads, sandwiches, dips! It was clear that these lessons not only engaged the children and created a memorable learning experience, but also taught the essential life skill of how to prepare food, as well as the practical application of healthy eating.

In the pre-2014 National Curriculum, food teaching could be ‘avoided’ as there was no explicit reference to food - it was simply one of the possible vehicles for delivering the D&T curriculum. But no more! Since 2014, food has been explicit in the English curriculum (D&T Cooking and nutrition) and must be taught. However, teacher concerns and anxieties regarding the practicalities of delivering food lessons with 30 children in an everyday classroom setting, have not simply disappeared.

In autumn 2016, two years into the new English curriculum, BNF surveyed 137 teachers and found out that just 16.5% had received practical food input during their teacher training and only 20% had received training during their teaching career (70% of survey respondents had taught for over 10 years).  Although this was only a small survey, the respondents were teachers signed up for the monthly BNF education newsletter, therefore a group of individuals with a natural interest in food education.  If so few of those with a natural interest and who actively sought support for food teaching had reported receiving so little practical food training, what training might those with less interest in the subject have received?

The practical food training provision for primary school teachers during their training and career seems wholly inadequate, especially given that food teaching is now compulsory in the English primary school curriculum. BNF has always strived to supported teachers with delivering hand-on food work and the Food – a fact of life website is host to many practical tools for primary school teachers, including videos showing how to safely prepare healthy dishes, recipes, posters, food and equipment cards, lesson notes - the list goes on. However, the disappointing survey findings regarding food training for primary teachers, confirmed BNF’s belief that more support was needed for teachers.  It was felt that an online training course might go some way to filling the training gap and equip primary school teachers to confidently deliver high quality, curriculum compliant food lessons. BNF also felt that schools may appreciate ideas and support to meet the curriculum requirement for dishes to be ‘predominately savoury’ - a departure from the biscuits and cakes so commonly made by primary school pupils (myself included) in the past.

In early 2017, BNF set to work developing a course covering the practicalities and safety considerations when cooking in a primary school classroom, how to teach healthy eating and how to apply this to recipes, food origin and information on current government advice regarding food in schools.  

The course is now in the final stages of development and will be launched in January 2018. It comprises information, quiz-style tests, lists, resources and booklets to not only equip teachers for teaching food, but also to engage them in the training process. It is hoped the course will support teachers by providing a wealth of practical solutions and ideas to help make food teaching feel manageable and worthwhile.

Teaching food in primary – the why, what and how will be available for every primary school teacher in the UK free of charge.

To keep up to date with developments in food education and the launch of the primary online training course, sign up for our monthly education email.  Go to: www.foodafactoflife.org.uk

This blog reflects on food teaching in England but food teaching is also compulsory in other UK countries.  The Teaching food in primary – the why, what and how course will be available in versions suitable for curricula in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and will also be available in Welsh language.