Ok, so this blog may be a little controversial but as you will know by now if you are a regular reader of my website, I am passionate, emotive and opinionated and sometimes unknowingly I resort to ranting about the value of food education.
Why am I like this? Well, because my experiences in life have shaped and formed my personality and my belief systems but mainly because my own home economics teacher took me under her wing and not only taught me the value of education but gave me a focus in life. She ‘got me’ in a way and inspired me at the age of 13 to become a home economics teacher. This is what I know about and what I love to do.
So today, following reading an article in the Sunday Times about Heston Blumenthal entitled “Heston whips up a whizz-bang GCSE to get children cooking” I had a moment of frustration and annoyance and quickly typed the following on a social network site
“ Why, oh why do so many people listen to celebrity chefs and allow them to make suggestions on the food curriculum ,health education etc. in this country and not listen to the people who have gone to university to train as food or home economics teachers or who have actually spent many years teaching food education in actual schools ? ”.
I have calmed down a bit since then and before I continue I would actually like to say that I do in fact have huge respect for Heston Blumenthal and Jamie Oliver for the work they do to raise the publicity of food education. I buy their cook books, discuss their initiatives in school and on my blog. They are not the only chefs I talk about or use as inspiration in my lessons. I am huge fan of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and his ethical campaigns and James Mackenzie, a Michelin starred chef at The Pipe and Glass Inn regularly mentors some of my pupils following his Golden Apron Competition. As a teacher, on the Focus on Food cooking buses I worked with James Martin, Gino, Paul Rankin, James Martin and many other great chefs at The Good Food Show, all of whom went to great lengths to support and promote the value of learning to cook among children and their families. I do believe that certain young people will value chefs greatly as role models. However, when it came to asking the government to consider saving a level food education as a subject earlier this year very few celebrity chefs came to our rescue or offered messages of support. I personally contacted quite a number of them and the only chef who responded with a personal reply to my email was Rick Stein with some very kind words of support.
So what is my problem then?
My problem is that it seems at times that the government seem to take the advice of chefs rather that teachers who teach pupils in schools on a daily basis. Also the media often report inaccurately about food education relying on the views of celebrity chefs rather than actually visit one of the 1000’s of schools around the country to see what actually happens in a GCSE food lesson. I believe that the article today makes some inaccurate points about food education on the whole. Here are my views
- Many teachers already teach a ‘whizz-bang’ GCSE already. We already teach pupils how to cook. We teach pupils how to fillet fish, debone a chicken, how to create a chocolate foam, make pasta from scratch, knead and shape bread, how to use a broad range of equipment and how to create meals for their families which consider a broad range of dietary needs and much much more .See link below for further information.
- We share ‘multisensory’ creative lessons on a daily basis and educate our pupils about food literacy and the importance of using descriptive sensory adjectives when evaluating their dishes.
- Teachers do not have massive budgets to buy a large range of equipment and resources to actually teach a’whizz- bang’ GCSE every day. We do it with limited budgets and in some cases teach some remarkable and outstanding lessons.
- Many teachers do in fact teach pupils about molecular gastronomy and eating edible insects already with much enthusiasm and engagement from our pupils but the specification requires us to teach much more than this.
- The reference in the article to ‘cookery’ GCSE shows a lack of understanding or lack of research into what we actually teach in schools. The GCSE is called ‘Food Preparation and Nutrition’ not a ‘cookery’ GCSE.
- I don’t know if Heston has actually written the GCSE and if he did why did he and not someone who is actually qualified to teach a Food GSCE. Is he jumping on the bandwagon or being paid a sum to promote our subject or is he genuinely interested in supporting our cause to teach the whole specification rather than a few ‘wow’ lessons.
- The article gives the impression that very few boys study GCSE Food.Heston believes that it is “crucial that we stop associating cooking as an exclusively female and domestic activity”. I know lots of schools who would beg to differ and where uptake of the subject by boys is impressive.Boys have been studying food education for a long time now.
So what it the point of this blog. The point is that I totally agree that celebrity chefs have lots to offer food education but so do the teachers who actually teach it. I wish the government or people involved in the planning of the GCSE Food Preparation and Nutrition curriculum would actually ask us our views and take them on on board, acknowledge the work that we do in schools and that celebrity chefs would support us at all levels to teach the whole curriculum not just now and again or on an ad hoc basis. We also need to focus equally on the nutrition aspect of the curriculum as the health of the nation is like a ticking time bomb and we should be consulting people who can help with the evidence based side of teaching food and nutrition in schools such as dietitians etc. too.
So that’s it, rant over and I for one am very excited about teaching the new GCSE on Food Preparation and Nutrition in school in September. I not sure how ‘whizz-bang’ it will be but I will do my best as I am sure food teachers all around the country will do too!