Food lessons in schools need a considerable shake-up if the Government is intent on truly ‘Levelling Up’ the country, according to the British Nutrition Foundation.
The organisation has recently been working with the All Saints Education Trust to explore what a future-facing, modern food education system should look like.
Through a “consensus building event” and teacher and student survey, it has developed a set of 10 recommendations for the future of food education, which it said must be “relevant to young people across the UK and meet the needs of our culturally diverse society”, if it is to be effective.
Two of the biggest elements of future food education should focus on are diversity and context. The organisation said food lessons should reflect ‘the now’, and be relevant to pupils’ cultures, family life, health, and the wider conversation around sustainability.
“Healthy and sustainable diets need to be the basis for food and nutrition education going forward, with learning about food from around the world, reflecting personal cultures and values, demonstrating diversity and inclusivity,” said the organisation.
Much of this comes down to a respect for the subject, the British Nutrition Foundation said. It added that this needs to come “from the top down” – recommending that policy makers, school governors and senior leadership teams all play their part to emphasise the importance of food education and careers within food later in life.
At the top of the list of suggestions is also universality – the organisation said food and nutrition education should be available to all young people, at least between the ages of five and 16.
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Last month, the CLA pointed out the optimum position the incoming GCSE in Natural History is in to teach school students about food systems.
Building on this, the British Nutrition Foundation’s recommendations also support the reintroduction of an A-Level Food and Nutrition course in England and Wales, as well as other post-16 food education opportunities.
For teachers, the group’s advice is mainly centred around training. It said more specialist food teachers need to be recruited across the board to ensure “high-quality, rigorous teaching” and that age-appropriate food and nutrition guidance for primary-age children should also be a part of initial teacher training and CPD.
Beyond a lack of training for teachers and a lack of access for pupils, there have been several “life-long, persistent” problems that have plagued food education, the organisation said. These range from ingredients provision to adequate curriculum timings and technician support. The key is to “unlock” these problems, it said.
With the Government’s response to the National Food Strategy due imminently, and the Levelling Up White Paper published earlier this year, there has been a spotlight on the state of food education in the UK.
Louise T. Davies, Founder of the Food Teachers Centre, said in a recent episode of Table Talk that a shortage of food teachers in our schools, a lack of hands-on experience in the kitchen and the disconnect between what is being taught in the classroom and what is served in the dinner hall all contribute to the problem, and risks developing a generation of young people who are unengaged with the food they eat.
As well as having serious ramifications for public health and the obesity crisis, this also spells danger for the environment and the task of creating a more sustainable food system.
Davies, who was also involved in the consensus building event with the British Nutrition Foundation, said: “The recommendations created as an outcome from the event aimed at exploring what our modern food education should look like, have been developed in a way to ensure they are supportive to schools, teachers and those involved in delivering food education.
“From the practical recommendations about including a variety of ingredients within cooking opportunities, through to ensuring food and nutrition is available to all children and the re-introduction of an A-Level and teacher recruitment and training, there is something for all food education providers to consider and act upon.”
Those wishing to see the full results of the British Nutrition Foundation’s survey and event, or access its teacher training resources, can do so through their website.