Neither time nor money

Neither time nor money

It’s the first action of the School Food Plan: put cooking into the curriculum in Key Stages 1 to 3. But how many schools are actually delivering this? Three years on, the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation decided to see how schools are getting on.

Words: Morag Wilson

When the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation conducted its Food Education Learning Landscape review it wanted to unearth the barriers to food education. It uncovered a huge disparity between schools delivering best practice and others that are struggling – teachers that don’t have the time, budget, skill or support to equip pupils with a knowledge that will set them up for life and help to reduce the nation’s growing obesity crisis.

The review, commissioned by the AKO Foundation and conducted by the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, British Nutrition Foundation, Food Teachers Centre and the University of Sheffield, is a comprehensive review of the state of food education and food culture, resulting from surveys and workshops with school leaders, parents, pupils, catering organisations, NGOs, governors and more.

Among the findings of its survey with senior leaders and food teachers is a startling disregard for the fact that practical food skills is now part of the national curriculum. Around two-thirds of schools are following the national curriculum on food education, with slightly more primary schools than secondary schools sticking to the letter.

However, in over 90% of primary schools, less than 20 hours per year (half an hour a week) is spent on food education and for the most part it is delivered by the classroom teacher who has not had sufficient Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training to deliver it. At Key Stage 3, one third of schools deliver less than 10 hours per year and three-quarters less than 20 hours per year of food education.

Two-thirds of primary senior leaders said they have insufficient budget, facilities and resources to deliver all of the knowledge and skills that are identified in the national curriculum. Teachers – both specialist food teachers and classroom teachers – are struggling.

Where is cooking being delivered?

Food education in primary schools is usually delivered in classrooms, with fewer than one in three schools having a dedicated food teaching room. Two-thirds of schools use a garden or allotment and half use the dining area or another communal area. Very few use the school kitchen. Yet this shouldn’t affect the delivery of practical cookery. As some schools show very well, a lot can be done using a plug-in induction hob and a few knives and chopping boards.

Class size was a factor cited by many senior leaders in delivering food education. It takes time to teach all pupils, with classes often requiring splitting into half, and the cost of bringing in a specialist teacher or training teachers is too much on ever-tightening budgets.

What’s cooking?

One of the key drivers of putting cooking back into the curriculum was to equip children with the knowledge of creating healthy, savoury dishes that they will use in their lifetimes. However, one-third of primary schools said pupils never learn to prep hot, healthy meals and 34% are taught this just once or twice a year.

Cold food is a slightly different story. Over half (54%) prepare cold, healthy dishes once or twice a year and just 9% never do. Food education seems to be more about learning basic knife skills, learning about the origin of food and the principles of nutrition and health and how to apply them.

At Key Stage 3, 49% of pupils learn how to prepare healthy hot dishes 1-2 times per year and 63% learn how to prepare healthy cold dishes. But again, the focus is really on food and nutrition theory and food growing.

How skilled are the teachers?

Training is undoubtedly needed if things are to improve. Just 14% of senior leaders agreed that most staff have received CPD in the last three years to deliver food education and only one third agreed that a member of the senior leadership team is familiar with the new curriculum guidance on teaching cooking and nutrition from Key Stage 1-2. Within secondary schools the figures are even worse. 48% said they strongly disagreed (and 28% disagreed) that most staff had relevant CPD and just 9% agreed they had. The majority do believe, however, that they follow the national curriculum guidance for food education.

There needs to be change if we are to see a new generation of competent citizens who can cook a healthy, homecooked meal. While caterers will surely agree that schools should be healthy food zones, our teachers and specialist food teachers need support and training to create a whole school approach to food.

A birthday cake ban?

Unsurprisingly, much of the media attention around the report has been the recommendation to ban birthday cakes and cake sales in schools by making schools healthy food zones. Jamie Oliver has once again been accused getting too involved in the decisions of schools and parents. But, when you look at the research, it’s clear to see why he has commented on this issue.

Primary schools
• 48% of senior leaders and heads of D&T agree and 13% strongly agree that school celebrations involve biscuits, cakes and sweets.
• 40% agree and 31% strongly agree that school fundraising activities involve biscuits, cakes and sweets.

Secondary schools
• 49% agree and 25% strongly agree that school celebrations involve biscuits, cakes and sweets.
• 37% agree and 55% strongly agree that school fundraising activities involve biscuits, cakes and sweets.

The recommendations

Healthy food zones
• Government should make School Food Standards mandatory in all schools and cover all food consumed when at school.
• Guidance for governors should be reissued on their responsibilities for school food.
• An expert group should create guidance for secondary schools in developing a positive school food ethos and culture.

Support the school workforce
• DfE should commission the development of a suite of professional development courses to support the delivery of effective food teaching in schools.
• DfE should commission a set of headteacher ‘health and wellbeing core competencies’ linked to wider standards for school leadership.
• An Initial Teacher Training ‘health and wellbeing module’ should be created.

Improve resources
• DfE and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) should establish an educational/industry working group to make recommendations for the appropriate mix of academic and vocational food qualifications.
• Government should consider a cross departmental/cross sector food that promotes food education in schools.
• A taskforce of food teachers, designers and chefs should design and develop an affordable ‘cooking cube’ for those 75% of primary schools that don’t have dedicated resources.
• Consider a social investment loan scheme for schools.
• Government should ensure the Healthy Pupils Capital Fund is targeted to the schools that need the most help and is dependent on schools achieving the Healthy Rating Scheme.

Report and evaluate
• The Healthy Rating Scheme should be mandatory for all schools.
• Carry out the School Food Plan’s measures.
• Ofsted reports should report on ways the school is addressing pupil’s physical, nutritional and emotional health and wellbeing.
• Ofsted should ensure that inspectors have the appropriate skills and competence in health and wellbeing.

Picture: David Loftus