First it was taught as part of Home Economics but as that faded out of fashion. It re-emerged as part of Design and Technology, deigned ‘Food Technology’. Now I believe the time is just right for cooking classes to move again – to the Arts.
Food Tech rightly tries to teach pupils about nutrients and hygiene, absolutely vital elements of their learning but frankly the majority of this should be covered in primary school Food Tech lessons and picked up again in more detail at GCSE for those who want to take the subject on to this formalised level. The best way of improving the nation’s health (and bank balances) is to make sure young people are able to cook for themselves, weaning a generation of the ready meals. We need young people to be enjoying cooking and doing as much of it as possible.
Jamie Oliver has worked with EdExcel to introduce a new set of basic Level 1 and Level 2 Home Cooking Skills courses which pupils are now able to take alongside their Key Stage 3 and GCSE study. However the scheme is voluntary, thus often the pupils most at risk of suffering poor nutrition and being unable to cook for themselves will still be the ones missing out. Jamie is heroic in his pursuit of improving life for the next generation but he can’t do it alone, at the very least Government should be making this a mandatory part of schooling.
Yet we can go further. With celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey all over the TV at the moment, not to mention the revived popularity of Masterchef, young people are more enthused (or could be) than ever before about cooking and cooking well – we should seize the moment and introduce Culinary Arts at Year 7.
The first step would be to ensure the teaching of basic cooking skills happens in Primary, even if this requires formal assessment alongside SATs to ensure that schools take this responsibility seriously. This is important to get right so that by the time pupils reach secondary school every pupil understands the basics of the kitchen. This would then provide a basis for Culinary Arts to be taught at Key Stage 3, building on the popularity of celebrity chefs and TV cooking competitions to encourage pupils to really experiment with food and develop affordable dishes that go beyond the basics. We need every child to be cooking a meal at least once every two weeks throughout Years 7, 8 and 9 of their school career – if this was a reality children would learn how to make over 50 different meals before they even begin a GCSE syllabus. The best pupils would go on to take their Culinary Arts to new levels, creating a new generation of world-class chefs.
Some will question my focus on cooking, suspecting I must be some kind of amateur chef myself. The sad truth is I enjoyed Food Tech lessons but wasn’t very good and by the time I reached university I didn’t know how to cook anything for myself - cue embarrassed questions to my peers about how to cook things as simple as bacon, a period of quick-fire self-teaching and a religious adherence to reading the on-packet instructions. I now really enjoy cooking but I’m no expert. I argue for better Food Education because I think all young people should leave school able to cook because the health benefits for the nation are potentially fantastic.
If we can teach young people to enjoy a varied diet, to cook hygienically and eat healthily we will improve their livelihoods (and the livelihoods of their children) all whilst reducing the obesity burden on the NHS and welfare bill and stop hampering businesses with long-term absence due to health problems. It’s a total win-win, so let’s lose the pretentious and/or naïve view that Food education is a nice but not totally necessary add-on to the curriculum confined to learning the very basics and lets embrace it as a genuine subject of creative and social worth.