Food Education should be a government priority

We live in a society that is plagued by ill health both physical and mental. Food teachers can make a tremendous impact on the way pupils prepare and eat food to maintain good health. Food teachers, in a way are health promoters who can play a proactive role in educating nutritionists, dietitians, teachers, doctors of the future in the prevention of ill health.

Unfortunately, as it stands according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey just one in 13 teenage girls are getting their recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day with just one in eight of boys are eating the right amount.  Meanwhile, the number of overweight and obese adults in the developing world has almost quadrupled to around one billion since 1980, says a report from a UK think tank. In Reception class in 2012/13, the proportion of obese children was 9.3% and in Year 6 in 2012/13, the proportion of obese children was 18.9%. Nearly 26,000 children, aged five to nine, were admitted to hospital in England in 2013-14, up 14% from 2011, with tooth decay (BBC News, 12 July 2015) Jamie Oliver is calling for the government to impose a sugar tax. According to young minds 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class and research has shown that eating certain foods can have both a negative or positive effect on mental health.

Food Education should therefore be a government priority. Yet the Department for Education have made a shock move to make Food the only national curriculum subject without an A level and this means by 2020 there will be no teachers joining our primary or secondary schools in England with the ability to teach food.

According to the government top universities are looking for science based course rather than food based courses for entry – then why not use the knowledge of current food teachers and offer one new a level course which combine food science, nutrition and health? This kind of A level would be ideal for pupils who wish to follow a more academic route at university and wish to study nursing, psychology, medicine, dentistry, dietetic and nutrition. The government also say the decision has been taken because of the low numbers enrolling in the course but yet they have made food education compulsory in KS3 curriculum! Surely when this begins in 2016 the number of pupils wishing to study A level would increase as a result.

Many pupils who study food education at A level are interested in careers in food science, food technology, food preparation, catering, nutrition, dietetics, psychology, medicine, teaching, nursing and dentistry. Many of them choose to study food at A Level as they understand its importance in giving them a wealth of knowledge on the impact of diet, nutrition and eating habits on health. Unfortunately, some pupils although they love studying food at GCSE do not continue to study it at A Level because they worry that universities will not value a food based over a science based a level. While sciences are critical in many of these careers, the study of food as a subject at A Level is often complimentary and also offers a more in-depth knowledge on food science, nutrition and health and the opportunity to apply this while working practically with food.

In terms of equality pupils from England who wish to study a food related subject at University will be at a disadvantage in comparison to pupils in the rest of the UK. The Northern Ireland curriculum still offers home economics at AS and A2 Level and Scotland offers Home Economics and hospitality which is a National Qualifications and are offered at various levels.

Unfortunately, there are many preconceived ideas about what food education is actually about. It is often described as a soft subject, lacking in rigour as some people believe that because it includes practical work it cannot be academic.

Perhaps, those who believe it is a soft subject should try to answer these A level food exam questions taken from the AQA 2014 Unit 3 Food Technology paper:

1.With the aid of diagrams, describe the basic chemical structure of the following:

amino acids

fatty acids

either alpha or beta glucose

  1. ‘Sustainability, seasonality and environmental friendliness are important factors in farming, production and transportation of food ingredients and food products.’ Discuss the issues associated with this statement.
  2. Explain why the following are used in food manufacture:

anti-foaming agents

anti-caking agents.

  1. Describe how food legislation helps to protect the consumer and to guide the manufacturer. Give examples to help your answer.

A level food education is a challenging subject which allows pupils to apply health and dietary messages in a practical way. Please ask the government to reinstate food education at A level. The health and education of future generations depends on it.

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