Food for thought: Reviewing the current recipe of D&T and food
Since the start of the national curriculum, food has been part of Design and Technology (D&T). But with a potential review of the subject likely to be incoming – and the majority of teachers saying they want food to be separated from D&T – is it time to explore alternatives for the way schools impart important skills and knowledge in food and nutrition?
A changing menu: the future of food
Through the Food Teachers Centre – a self-help resource I founded for teachers in 2013 – we recently took the opportunity to ask schools and teachers directly about food as a subject. 516 teachers from secondary schools in England responded about their thoughts on teaching food now and for the future.
This survey, Food: fit for the future, found that only 38% of all food teachers believe that there is enough time to deliver their curriculum effectively. Interestingly, three-quarters of teachers – roughly the same proportion currently teaching the subject within D&T – wish to separate food and nutrition from D&T altogether.
At the same time, the majority of teachers also highlighted the lack of exam choice post-16 in the area of food, diet and nutrition – calling for the return of food at A level.
The findings are fascinating and persuasive. But before we consider their implications, let’s take a closer look at how the last few years have brought us to this point.
Looking back: the last 10 years in food
England’s current curriculum for D&T: Cooking and Nutrition, Key Stage 1-3, has been in place since 2014. Almost ten years on, there is much that has changed in how the subject is viewed on national and global stages. As a result, some feel that what and how we teach neds to better reflect real-world concerns and priorities.
Since 2014, at both primary and secondary level, food teaching ‘standards’ have been introduced to shape the knowledge and skills being passed on. Core food competences have been published in a partnership involving Public Health England to give a framework around food, diet and physical activity for children aged 5-16 – a framework which has since been internationally adapted.
In 2020, characteristics of good practice in food teaching were released as specialist guides, following consultation with school practitioners and teacher training providers. A year later, the government brought out its National Food Strategy recommendation, followed by the Levelling Up reports. These explored how food and diet underpin the health, wellbeing and potential of our society, and expressed concern at the numbers of young people leaving education without the skills to cook and live healthily.
Elsewhere during this period, the government began to promote the accountability and transparency of school food arrangements by encouraging schools to complete a statement on their websites, setting out their whole-school food approaches.
Combined, the messaging in these years was clear: food matters; it’s important; and necessary for the beneficial development of pupils. Teachers argue that the time given to teach food – and teach it well – is undermining that message. Indeed, those who agree that food is to be valued and taught to every pupil aged 5-16 years, may find it interesting to hear that – according to our survey – 33% of food teachers are timetabled on rotation for just one term in the year. More than a fifth of teachers (21%) are on rotation for half the year, while only 18% teach weekly throughout the year.
Timetabling is a perennial challenge for the sector of course, with time generally being schools’ most precious – and least available – resource. Even so, 65% of food teachers now say they would like to see weekly sessions in UK schools.
Reduced uptake: the story at secondary
Another major development in recent years has been the removal of A levels in Home Economics: Food and Nutrition, and Food Technology (with last teaching in 2018). The move has been criticised for negatively affecting GCSE uptake, limiting routes of progression, reducing resources in teaching and funding, and putting the subject’s status into an unfortunate decline when it is arguably needed as much as – if not more than – ever before.
Indeed our survey found that most teachers, 93%,believe there is a lack of exam choice post-16, and that it should be a stand-alone subject (with most saying their SLT would agree). The majority, 89%, would like the return of an A level.
These calls for change come in the context of widespread changes to how many schools wish to teach pupils for the future. Many teachers in our survey identified the subject’s potential to teach not only healthy eating, cooking, food hygiene and so on, but also to tie into crucial whole-school and whole-community messaging around protecting and preserving the planet’s resources. To that end, 87% of teachers believe sustainability should be included in food lessons.
With debates on agriculture, imports, exports, carbon footprints, food prices and more becoming increasingly central to the national conversation, are all pupils being equipped with what they need to become informed future leaders, policymakers and citizens?
Learning for life: real-world skills
From the classrooms of infant schools to the upper echelons of government, there is clear agreement that our young people need opportunities to learn the real-world skills and knowledge they need to relate to food and health. In the current landscape of D&T, how should schools plan and implement this to ensure equity among students?
Could separating food from D&T be the place to start?
Significant changes will take time to implement well, but my sense is nevertheless that they are on their way. At the Food Teachers Centre we’re seeing more and more interest from key players in the sector, all interested in shaping a food education curriculum for the future. These changes would need the appropriate funding and backing. An agreement on what food education is for; how it can cultivate independence and good health; leading to better outcomes for every individual and their family, and potentially for our planet too. It should be formed through close consultation with teachers, pupils and researchers. It should be inclusive, aspirational and accessible.
1. Consult on new content and teaching requirements: Continue information gathering and consultation with teaching and food-related professionals, for example, use focus groups to examine the issues raised in more depth and draft the desired content of the next food curriculum (programmes of study).
2. Model approaches: Create curriculum and timetabling models of different approaches that schools may adopt to examine their strengths and weaknesses to ensure that food education has a strong and equal position to other subjects in the school.
3. Review the impact on D&T and other subjects: Consider the wider implications of the research for other areas of D&T (such as textiles, design) and also consider how consistency and alignment can be achieved with PSHE, PE and Science in any future national curriculum review.
4. Plan for additional resource requirements: Consider the communication, resources, staffing and continuous professional development required to achieve new curriculum models.
5. Train more specialist food teachers: Develop a significant recruitment campaign to attract professionals with the appropriate food subject knowledge and skills to address the current staffing shortage and increase in staff needed for future provision.
6. Reintroduce A-level food: Address the progression issues raised at 14-18 years due to the removal of A-Levels in Food, by providing new effective opportunities to study nutrition, food science, food systems and sustainability at A-Level, in addition to vocation catering route. Engage with universities, NGOs and the wider food industry sector to develop modern appropriate post-16 examination content.
Ultimately, our survey found views that chime with the larger picture in schools across England: a picture of teachers wanting to reshape the curriculum in ways that give pupils what they need most; to make their lessons purposeful; to enrich the lives of everyone whatever their background or needs. The response from frontline educators suggests it’s time we thoughts hard about this essential subject, focus on what needs to be taught and have staff ready to take forward the challenge – all committed to nourishing bodies, minds and futures.
Louise T. Davies is a writer, D&T consultant and founder of the Food Teachers Centre, a platform to exchange best practice, give advice and support to teachers, and keep them abreast of the latest curriculum changes.
 See article written in partnership with Roy Ballam at www.foodafactoflife.org.uk/news/what-s-happened-in-schools-since-the-removal-of-food-a-level and further findings at ojs.lboro.ac.uk/DATE/article/view/2922