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Should cooking be compulsory in schools?

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Sheila Dillon Sheila Dillon | 11:59 UK time, Tuesday, 8 February 2011

On January 20th the coalition government announced a total review of the school curriculum. There was plenty of coverage of the fact, but what didn’t capture the media's attention was the impact on the previous government’s commitment to getting 11-14-year-olds cooking again. The plan had been part of the former government’s attack on obesity. Teach someone to cook and they won’t spend a lifetime eating factory-prepared junk was the idea. It was to happen in 2011, but now it’s in limbo. Teachers have been retrained, school kitchens have been fitted, but the teaching and the cooking aren’t going to take place, at least not for a long time. If children are lucky their secondary school will teach ‘food technology‘ and if they’re luckier, they’ll get to turn ingredients into real dishes. Otherwise food tech will involve designing food packaging or theoretical sandwich fillings. Or, there won’t be any lessons involving food at all - food technology is not part of the core curriculum.

Kneading dough

 

In this week’s Food Programme we were asking ‘why have we come to this and what can we do about it?’ We began with a little history from Dr Marion Rutland of Roehampton University about a subject that’s been taught in some form or other, mostly to girls, since the mid-1800s. And it brought me out in a rash of nostalgia. I formally learned to cook in my Lancashire village all-age school. Once a week a group of girls, from the weenies to the 15-year-olds on the brink of moving into the world of work were taken to a special cooking centre in Rawtenstall, each of us with our basket of prescribed ingredients. We learned what Dr Rutland called ‘plain cooking’. It seemed like good cooking to me then and still does: fairy cakes, meringues, Victoria sponges, jam tarts, apple pies, Lancashire hotpot, fish pie, cheese and onion bakes, steak and kidney pudding, and Christmas cakes and mincemeat in season.

Apple pie


It was a recipe list that trained us in many skills that are easy to transfer as adults to the new dishes of our lively food multiculturalism. Pizzas, stir fries, green curry, beef ragout, tiramisu? No problem. Very few of the dishes we made pass the current - and frequently misguided - ‘healthy’ test (suet, lovely suet!), but we were very healthy. And looking at my school photographs now I see that none of us were fat.

But it was all change during the Thatcher years when the education ministry decided that what the country needed were not cooks who could feed themselves and their families, but food technologists who could work in the nation’s food factories: people who could design a theoretical frozen pizza, but who’d not the first idea of how to make a pizza. And so we created that generation of children we saw in Jamie’s School Dinners who don’t know a carrot from an onion and whose parents also don’t know a stick of celery from a cauliflower.

So, with compulsory cooking no longer on the agenda - or it won’t be until the curriculum review committee make a decision sometime in 2014 - what else is available? Over the last twenty years while food tech has been the official line, dozens of groups have sprung up to try to bring cooking back into children’s lives. The biggest, most ambitious and most successful has been the Soil Association-led Food for Life partnership financed with £16.9 million from the Lottery. In hundreds of schools they’ve been improving school meals as well as getting children onto farms, growing their own food and getting them cooking again. 

One of the most interesting of the smaller groups is the Academy of Culinary Arts’ Chefs adopt a school programme. This year they’ll work with 21,000 children - a drop in the ocean, but one that makes a lot of difference to many families’ lives.

But is all this voluntary, entrepreneurial effort enough to impart the food skills that are necessary in rebuilding a food culture that will save this generation from the ills of mass obesity, rising rates of diabetes and a fracturing civility? Can the Big Society do it? I’m not optimistic.   

So tell us, do you think domestic science or food technology should be compulsory in schools? How was (or is) cooking taught in your school?

Shelia Dillon is the presenter of Radio 4’s The Food Programme.

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Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Of course cooking should be taught in schools - both to boys and girls. Cooking is a vital life skill! Far too many young people live on take-aways and ready meals because they don't know how to cook, which is both expensive and nutritionally poor.

    When I was at grammar school, in the 1960s, only the girls were taught cookery, and then it was just the basic pastry, cakes and cottage pies. But this was a good grounding, and has stood me in good stead for developing my skills.

  • Comment number 2.

    There has been much discussion on this issue on the Food messageboard today at http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbfood/NF2670471

    Please continue to share your views and in the meantime, here are some highlights:

    Joanbunting: Don't get me started. I listened to the Food Programme and got very steamed up. I am an ex-teacher (mostly Special Needs) but later did several different things including starting a unit for schoolgirl mums, before and after their babies. The first person I appointed to work there was a good old-fashioned domestic science teacher. The girls made a cooked lunch once a week and learned also about child nutrition and cooking. They loved it especially as many had never even been in a family kitchen watching an adult cook. They all sat round a properly set table to eat and I always tried to arrange my diary to be there on "proper dinner days". Incidentally many years on the unit is flourishing and has great inspection results. Young men and women should not have to end up in an undesirable position in order to learn basic domestic skills. It should be taught in all schools. This may ruffle some feathers but I totally fail to see why religious education is compulsory but basic life-skills are not.

    Liliana: Yes without any doubt, if you can cook simple meals you are not at the mercy of ready/chilled/takeaway meals and are also passing on the pleasure of preparing meals to your kids. It benefits your health and pocket, and it's more pleasurable to eat something you've made than open a packet. It's different to having a day off cooking and opening a tin of soup than opening a tin of soup because that's all you can do! Two things are extremely important to me, passing on the knowledge of basic cooking skills to my kids and eating our meals around a table. But this isn't the norm as appears from other kids, so if they can understand basics at school all the better for this nation's health. I thought it was a great programme when I listened to it yesterday and I believe it's repeated today. Having said all of this...my very bright oldest daughter, doing extremely well at school turned round to me last year and said "what do you mean by turning off the gas?" When I rang home when I thought I left something on the stove on! Ah well...it will sink in eventually!

    cherrytree: Things are not going to get any better in England at least. We have had Michael Gove's insistence on the "English Bac" which emphasises the importance of an academic curriculum and therefore makes the choice of a practical subject even harder to fit in. We then are gradually getting the Russell group of universities to issue a list of favoured subjects for admission to their establishments. Both of these make compulsory cooking even harder to accommodate. I'm not saying this is right, but as a governor of a comprehensive school that makes enormous and successful efforts to cater for Oxbridge entrants and non-academic pupils as well, it's a very hard task.

    soon-to-be-mrsburns: I don’t know about schools In England and Wales (nor Scotland but that’s another thing completely), but here in Northern Ireland it’s already compulsory. Though you don’t cook much! Maybe once a month we did a bit of cooking, but it was stuff like chocolate cornflakes and buns; never any healthy eating. Also during GCSE I only cooked around six times and also learned nothing. Home Economics (Food Technology) for us was really just learning about five-a-day and health and safety, but never any practical cooking.

    StrictlySalsaClare: Cooking should definitely be compulsory in schools. When I was a girl, Home Economics was compulsory up until the options in secondary school. I took it and it was one of my favourite lessons. Luckily I had learnt to cook with the help of my mum and gran. However, in my HE lessons you did have to make sure you were learning skills such as baking or sauce making. I do feel that making meals would be just as beneficial, if not more so, for example cooking fish or grilling chops. I do think it is very sad that a generation have not been given the opportunity to learn valuable life skills.

    Pax: In theory, yes, it is a good idea for schools to teach cookery. I learned some cookery at junior school, but the lessons were so slow and boring, and we made such dull things, that it put me off rather than inspiring me. At senior level, yes both boys and girls should be taught how to cook, but it needs an inspired teacher. Too much theory and too little actual cooking puts people off - or it did me. I think, however, that schools might say that there is no room in their schedule/syllabus to fit in cookery for all. Even when I first went to my high school, in September 1939, I was put in the Latin class because I was bright and only less bright pupils learned to cook - though we don’t we all need to cook eventually? I contend that anyone who can read can cook, but it does help for teachers to give you pointers. Perhaps my grandaughter's school had the right idea, but that was at a boarding school. When they were in the 6th form, they were given so much money and had to buy and cook their own evening meal, I think their House Mistress helped them, but at least they were not sent out into the world without ever once cooked for themselves.

    Rosie: With reports of the number of children leaving school unable to read or write, and totally innumerate, I would have thought that those subjects are far more important than even basic cooking.

    StokeySue: It is actually an almost impossible question. I've never had a cookery lesson in my life - and I can cook fine so it can be done - but probably only if you get the right circumstances (which in my case involved a decent kitchen and home cooked food in my family). The headmistress of my (all girls) school decided two years before I got there that she needed a physics lab more than a domestic science kitchen - and had it converted accordingly. I can understand at least some head teachers, governors and parents feeling that there is only so much school day, and they'd rather fill it with physics than cookery. Then there would be many others who'd feel that basic life skills should be universal - and I'd sympathise a lot with that point of view too. What we don't want, or I really hope we don't, is a two tier system where the "grammar school kids" get physics, and the "secondary modern kids" get baking. Anyone remember that?

    Chris_Beds: I was at school in the 1950s as well, at an all-girl's grammar school, and all I remember cooking is jam tarts - not a very healthy diet, in fact no better than chips, a slice of toast and baked beans. I ate much healthier food at home because my working-class mother knew the value of fresh vegetables, fruit and a healthy diet, in spite of the restrictions of the immediately post-war years. We too had the system where the bright ones did Latin, (or the less bright ones German!) and the rest did cookery. I did German, and had to wait for the Open University to do Latin. And I'm lousy at jam tarts.

    saffiewalks: I think definitely yes. Even if it is basics it may get some of them realising that you do not have to microwave something from the supermarket to get a hot meal. When I was at school in the 1950s, Home Economics was a given, and although most of us had already learnt quite a bit from our mums and grandmas, it reinforced what we had learnt. There was even an O level in the subject which most of us at my all-girls grammar school took.

  • Comment number 3.

    Food and cooking should never have been removed fro the curriculum, learning how to cook is completely different to learning about food (just because you know why and how starch gelatinises doesn't mean you can make a white sauce!). I am about to run a course with 6th Formers with the sole aim of giving them the basic skills to cook for themselves when they go off the college or leave home. It was a shock to see how many of them didn't even go shopping (apart from their lunch), let alone cook for themselves. They have little idea of how much food costs, what they might need to buy week to week and the prospect of cooking something that they will want to eat leaves many of them blank.

    Not enough children are being taught how to cook in the home, mainly because the home is too reliant on processed ready meals. Cooking has become an unusual activity, something to do at the weekend. The basics is all that is needed to give children the tools to develop cooking skills and they will then be more equipped to find their own way.

    It would be great if the Food Programme could perhaps get some of the schleb chefs to help in the same way that they have been helping the Big Fish Fight.

  • Comment number 4.

    Cooking in school has been a political football over the last couple of years - I've just written about the direct state of apprenticeships and craft bakery education and training at www.thecraftbaker.co.uk. There is no political will to do anything other than train factory workers and apprentice programmes are often exploiting young people by using them as a form of (very) cheap labour. In the face of large corporate enterprises demanding government train exclusively for factory process it is hard to feel optimistic about the potential for communities to teach kids themselves (without support or resources) - clearly school is the most obvious place for this to happen.

  • Comment number 5.

    I went to a comprehensive school, which had previously been a technical high school. This meant we had lots of facilities for cooking, as the old technical highs were aimed at teaching less academic kids practical skills. The whole time I was at school we had cooking classes, and we used to make amazing things like hotpot, risotto, cakes and tarts. It is amazing what you can make in a one hour lesson! It was the best class we had in school, and is so important for people to learn - i have no problem now making whatever I want as I have a real understanding of the basics. My sister, who went to a Grammar School and never did cooking classes is still hopeless at cooking and marvels at the things that I create. I have a friend who teaches basic skills to students with behaviour problems, and she has found that cooking lessons really help the kids development as it gives the kids confidence to make something successfully, but also she can use it to teach the basics of other subjects ie maths (weighing, doubling up ingredients etc, converting recipes), or science (boiling, freezing etc). Quite a lot of her students loved the cooking classes so much they have gone on to study to be chefs, which is great!

  • Comment number 6.

    I was lucky to have someone who started to teach me to cook when I was aged 8 just by using basic pkt mix for cakes. I did cookery in school and can follow instructions from any cookery book in both old oz and pounds or in kg. I agree auderyfoode that people have no clue how to buy or cook food. I have worked with woman in there 20's who have told me mammy makes my dinner as I can't cook. If you know the basics you can work from there but you need someone to show you this and answer your questions. The 6th formers having someone teaching them to cook are very lucky but it sad to think that at 17 and 18 years of age they can't cook.

  • Comment number 7.

    Im a Director of a social enterprise that teaches cookery in both primary and secondary schools in Liverpool. Besides the lack of facilities in schools what is also apparent is that some teachers with the responsibility for cookery do not have the relevant skills and this should also be considered as part of the problem.
    Our work involves working with children, teachers and parents and we have had amazing success in changing attitudes and behaviours regarding cookery, food knowledge and how these skills and knowledge are used in the home - which for us is the focus. Behind our mission which is - teaching everyone to cook - the aim is make sure the food that children and their parents are taught to cook is the very same food they will want to cook at home - making sure it fits budgets and tastes. By starting with what people will eat you have every chance of making sure the teaching 'sticks'.

  • Comment number 8.

    I would like to know why the BBC has so little in the way of programs concerning food, cooking and nutrition on Radio 4. Look at the array of food programs on the TV, and all we have regularly on Radio 4 is the fantastic Food Programme, a mere 25 minutes a week. Shameful!

  • Comment number 9.

    I believe that this is a fundamental skill needed for people to be able to provide for themselves. It allows people much more choice in what they eat and how healthy their diet is. Cooking from scratch is really the only time you know exactly what is in your food. I've cooked all my adult life, and am able to provide nutritious, tasty meals for my children even when on a low budget.

    My 13 year old son has done some great cooking at secondary school, but after choosing his GCSEs' that's it-no more cookery tuition. Will 3 years really be enough to give him the confidence to cook for life?

  • Comment number 10.

    I really enjoyed my cookery classes at school and was disappointed that my children, now in their late twenties and early thirties never really got this opportunity. I think that the ability to cook healthy food is an essential life skill and everyone should learn at least the basics. Also, many children who don't shine at games or maths will find they have the organisational skill, budgeting ability and patience necessary to produce tasty food. Surely this will lift their confidence in other subjects.

  • Comment number 11.

    I am a Home Economics teacher then I became a Food Technology teacher. Now it seems that I am to be a catering and hospitality teacher though I have never worked in the food or catering industries. I chose to study Home Economics at college because I wanted to teach and I wanted to teach a practical subject. So I'm basically teaching a subject now for which I am not qualified and have had no in-service training. Over the years I have seen the subject go from an activity which was useful to all children to something which lacks knowledge and skills. I am almost old enough to see the subject come full circle back to cookery and no more.
    There are some points which are relevant from the teacher's point of view:
    1) it is utterly utterly exhausting to teach up to five lessons of practical cookery every day; lessons which only last one hour
    2) parents are expected to provide the ingredients and if they don't like what is being cooked then the children won't cook. I'm talking about fresh vegetables nothing more exotic than carrots
    3) if children don't like what has been set to cook, then they will conveniently forget to bring ingredients and then the teacher has to set other work which the children will resent doing and so they will create trouble in the class. The teacher will not know the course of the lesson until the students arrive. Children will forget to bring an ovenproof container when they are cooking, say, apple crumble (with wholemeal flour, if parents have got it). So, that becomes another problem for the teacher to solve. Other subjects do not have such demands like this.
    4) the management of the school will always send the low ability to cookery and dissuade the brighter students from taking the subject. The management always quibble about how expensive the subject is.
    5) food technology is demoralising as it demands students to cook the same product several times with little variations each time. So a student could get an A* having only cooked cakes. Coursework is pointless whereas the theory of nutrition is vital which means writing about.
    6) Often equipment is faulty and takes an age to get sorted. If ovens don't heat up properly, then baking takes so much longer to cook which means some baking going into the next lesson or into the teacher's break (they might even have to do a duty) or lunch-time.
    7) The teacher becomes the cleaner as well. What does the teacher do with the dirty tea towels and cloths if a lesson is last thing on a Friday afternoon - take them home to wash. I have on occasions.
    8) The class sizes are too big, but management do not understand the constraints - 25 Year 9s in a room designed for 18 does not work.
    Children should be taught how to cook at home, but in many cases that does not happen. Children should be taught how to cook at school, but it really is against all the odds. I love teaching cookery, though now only part-time because of the reasons given above, but it is exhausting to teach and treated as inferior in many schools. Teaching Food has become more theoretically, because of exam syllabuses, exhausting for teachers and expensive and troublesome for parents. Teaching cookery in schools can only be successful if teachers are given enough lesson time, proper working equipment, ingredients supplied by school, trained technicians who don't think they are the teacher, and supportive management who care about children rather than targets.

  • Comment number 12.

    We all need to eat. Unlike some subjects taught at schools, for which in later life we might well have no use, learning to cook gives us not only an invaluable life skill, but a better understanding of what goes into the food we eat - and therefore what is unnecessary, and perhaps even unhealthy.

    Unsurprisingly, we at the RealBreadCampaign.org, feel that baking bread should be one of the skills taught. In a country where wrapped factory loaves have been ubiquitous for several generations, many children grow up in households where there is little to no experience or even knowledge of bread making. In this environment, generally it is not possible to leave teaching about such a fundamental element of life to the discretion of parents.

    We are, therefore, running two schemes - Bake Your Lawn and Lessons in Loaf - to help teachers and parents share the joy of Real Bread with children, and help them find out that Real bread begins life in a field, not a factory.

  • Comment number 13.

    We’ve had even more discussion about this issue on the messageboard this week. Here are a few more of the comments:

    ordinarygull: I had started a couple of threads last year, moaning about the Food Technology lessons my son was having at his new secondary school. He has now joined a lottery funded after-school cookery club called 'Let’s Get Cooking'. This is open to pupils and also to parents and carers. So far they have made muffins and various soups - all ingredients are provided. He is still finding it a bit basic, but it seems really good to me - he is coming home with new skills (even though he thinks he knows it all already). Sad thing is that out of a school with 1600 pupils, a grand total of 13 have signed up for this!

    Gertcha Cowson: There is a very big generation gap between parents and their children when it comes to teaching life skills like cooking, nutritional values, finances and even textiles (no-one teaches to fix clothes anymore). I think now more than ever it is crucial to teach both boys and girls Domestic Science. However I think we also need to teach the parents as well, because most of what I just listed was always passed down from parent to child - unfortunately that stopped a few decades ago; it is essential that we kick-start this process again. If we can get this young generation to learn these basic life skills so they can pass it down to their next generation, we can make sure that our kids’ future is at least secure from ignorance.

    Nigeepoo: Kids need to learn how to cook proper food, i.e. meat, poultry, fish and veggies, learning the use of herbs and spices (to make nice-tasting stuff) and learning correct cooking techniques and times so as to avoid serving up food that's been cooked to death.

    LeCreusetFiend: I'm absolutely with you there, Nigeepoo! I had no cooking lessons at all when I was at a boys-only secondary school in the '90s (we had a choice of woodwork, electronics or design for GCSE.) But many people of my age I've talked to who did "Home Economics" at school seem to have found that it was far too much about the technological side of food rather than actually cooking, and on the rare occasions that they got to cook something, it would be the ubiquitous Victoria sponge, jam tarts, shortbread etc. Nothing that would actually feed you day-to-day. I was lucky. My mum wasn't a great cook, but she certainly taught me the basics, and so I was confidently cooking curries and things for friends by the time I was in the 6th form, but so many young people don't get this knowledge. It was brought home to me when I went to uni in 2000. One of my new flatmates was trying to make dinner for herself on the first night in our flat, and had to phone her mum to tell her how to boil potatoes. Genuinely! For some reason, she wouldn't believe my tales of popping them in salted water for 20 minutes! In my opinion, it should be a compulsory subject up until you choose your GCSEs.

    cannyfradock: In my 3rd year in high school (13 years of age in 1971) we were given a choice to drop one subject and take on another. I decided to take on "Home Economics" which turned out to be 90% cooking and 10% classroom studies. I was one of three boys in a class of about 25. I still believe an option at a sensible age is better than compulsory. Out of the three boys, one is Chef in an Italian restaurant, the other is Head Chef in a large hospital and I am a bricklayer. I still love cooking though.

    Dee: Basic kitchen and dining skills should be taught - yes. While it SHOULD be taught at home by parents, sadly this is not always the case. Also basic table manners - how to use a knife and fork properly, how to consume soup, how to use a side plate and knife, how to use a napkin etc… I was appalled recently when eating breakfast at a chain hotel (order as much as you like) when the young men (six of them and a more mature chap) nearby ordered huge breakfasts (four sausages, two eggs, four bacon rashers, beans etc), then ate only literally a couple of mouthfuls and left the table in a terrible state with their knives and forks at either side of their plates, half on the table. It might not have been an upmarket place but it was like feeding time at the zoo. I've seen better manners displayed by very small children in McDonalds. I wondered if they are like that at home and came to the conclusion that yes they probably were. While some table manners could be seen as elitist and outdated, simple things like leaving your cutlery together when finished should be taught. I am also amazed at how many people I see in "posh" restaurants buttering the entire slice of bread and not in small pieces. Fine at home or in a cafe but I see nothing wrong with adjusting table manners upwards according to the surroundings. Apparently many children start school having no knowledge of how to use a knife and fork! In "Service" some of the trainees had never visited a restaurant with table service and didn't understand the concept of cheese and biscuits after a meal. A lesson on "how to eat in a restaurant" wouldn't go amiss. Children could role play as customers and waiting staff. They could learn about tipping and what to do if something isn't right. A valuable life skill - it might make all the difference if they are taken for a meal by prospective employer or are expected to lunch with a client in later life.

    GlobalWorming: Yes, look at the results we have had from Comp RE and sex education. I started school in the 50s in a rural area. I remember how humiliated two mates were when they had to queue for a free school meal - I use meal loosely. I was banned from PE for being naughty and sent to the all-girl cookery lessons as a punishment. The teacher qualified as a pastry cook in Devil’s Island Prison. My mum on her worst day could cook better than the old witch’s best day. I left school at 15 years old because I was thick. It was only in my twenties that I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I also found out that my IQ put me in the top 10% bracket. Who will fund the ingredients required for kids living in poverty with parents who cannot pay for school meals?

    Mrs Vee: I think I’m at odds with many of the posts. No... I don't think cooking should be taught compulsorily in schools. We still have many, many children leaving school without any qualifications and in some cases unable to read or write adequately. Once that issue has been tackled, then additions to the curriculum can be considered. IMO schools are supposed to educate our children; cooking is a life skill and should be taught by parents, along with table manners and knowing how to use a knife and fork properly. Of course many parents won't do this; my own parents didn't - my mother was a terrible cook and never showed me how to do a thing in the kitchen, but I still don't think it’s the job of a teacher to make up for the failings of parents. Teachers have quite enough of a job on their hands as it is.

    ChefMelanie: Cooking should definitely be compulsory in schools - no question about it. Maybe a slightly biased view, coming from someone who might wanna become a home economics teacher in the future, but I think education on cooking and food is so important, especially in this day and age. As we are all too aware, this country is fighting a massive (appropriate word? lol) battle with obesity, and I believe the main reason behind this is the increase in fast food and ready meals. I honestly don’t think people get fat or certainly not obese through good home-cooked meals. In the past we have used copious amounts of lard and butter in foods, but it is only now that we have this increasing problem with obesity. And childhood obesity is rising. In order to prevent another generation of overweight adults, we need to first educate children on a healthy diet, what foods are good and bad for them, and then educate them on how to put healthy eating into practice - through creating simple, delicious, nutritious meals for their families at home. You need only to have seen Jamie's School Dinners a few years back to see how important this all is.

    Scarymamma: These are skills that should be learnt at home - but aren't. As a teacher it really annoys me that teachers and schools are constantly expected to 'fix' society's ills, especially at secondary level. More and more schools are having to teach skills that really are the in the domain of parenting. That said, these things aren't being taught at home because the skills don't exist in many homes anymore, so the only option is school. The Government should look at Government policies and issues in society that have permitted (if not promoted) the demise of basic lifeskills. Even if children do Food Technology at GCSE they don't actually have to be able to cook. My friend's daughter is doing her GCSE and is making a ragu sauce for spaghetti bolognese for one of her GCSE coursework projects. She was horrified when her daughter said that she needed a bottle of ragu sauce!!! They could use a bottled sauce if they wanted and didn't have to make the bolognese from scratch.

    iam-trying: I have not listened to the programme but I agree with what you are saying. There is a very great need for children to be taught about food in school. If children are taught the basic skills and the food groups and what they are and do then at least their choices will be informed ones.

    You can listen to the programme again here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00y50qm

  • Comment number 14.

    I am a primary school teacher and we teach cooking as part of DT, totally agree cookery lessons should be complulsory in secondary schools, but I also feel strongly about obese children and unhealthy children and I think the only way to positively prevent children eating junk food is to stop packed lunches (which all too often include junk food) and make school dinners compulsory, they are by far the healthy option these days.

  • Comment number 15.

    2 items should be addressed here - whether to have cookery lessons compulsory or not, but in addition (if cookery is made compulsory), what should be taught... At the start of my tuition in a Herts secondary school, our 1st cookery lesson was on making fresh milkshakes where we were asked to buy and supply the vital ingredients for the following lesson... nesquick and milk (I kid you not – it went downhill from there too!) :(

    Here in Finland where I live now, schools teach cookery, washing, ironing – everything for young ‘uns to live self sufficiently. It’d be nice to see the UK adopt this idea (again?) too in my opinion. :)
    - Alex

  • Comment number 16.

    When I was appointed Headmistress of a very successful Grammar School in the 70's, one of my top priorities was to update a Home Economics department which was the most neglected department in the school. I was given the means by the LEA to build three new state of the art D.S rooms. The Head of Department responded by creating a department that produced excellent examination results,but more important, a great enthusism for cooking. When we later re-organised to be a comprehensive school,every girl in the school learned to make pastry and bread. our policy was that at home the pupils might buy bread and frozen pastry, but at school they would experience the joy of making pastry and bread. I will never forget the joy on the faces of the first year "remedial" class as they proudly showed me their freshly made loaves.

  • Comment number 17.

    Cooking should be taught in schools to give children a better aprieciation of the food that they eat. But it should also teach children where food originates from and what foods are in season. I learnt alot about food at school more than I did at home and since the from t.v. and recipe books, and am now a competent cook, but not tidy and enjoy cooking. Living on the continent my children haven't had the joy of compulsory cooking lessons, my youngest daughter chose as a last resort cookery and serving for her last two years as there was no other course available to her, but learnt in my mind very little. By the age she left school I could fillet a fish (which I can still do at a push)bhut she can't. I also learnt not to be scared of trying new recipes or techiques. But then again I did go to the same secondary school as Gary Rhodes so maybe we were just lucky with our Cookery Teachers considering he was two years behind me when he took cookery lessons there.

  • Comment number 18.

    I strongly believe all children should have cooking at school. I did! It is a necessary skill everyone need to know how to use.
    I've used the recipes for children from the BBC GoodFood magazine with my grandchildren. They love cooking! Thankfully their father also enjoys cooking and does the weekend meal so they are learning by example. But learning at school would teach them different methods.

  • Comment number 19.

    Being over 60 and going to a girls only school our domestic science class not only taught us to cook but how to wash (without a machine)and iron. My son joined the services at 16 (Royal Marine) so he irons better than me. In a world that all sex's are equal I think to teach even the basic cooking skills and general home economics to all childen would help them.

  • Comment number 20.

    I'm from the USA, so I'm not speaking specifically about the British context.

    I think that a course (or courses?) on practical living should be required, which would include, in addition to cooking, finance and budgeting, basic home maintenance, insurance, employment issues (finding a job, etc.), interpersonal and family issues.

    Most of education is either theoretical or career-oriented, but some personal life studies, which would include cooking, would be helpful, I think, for the well-being of individuals and as a result, of the broader society.

  • Comment number 21.

    I do *not* think that cookery lessons should be compulsory in schools; it is far more important to ensure children are literate and numerate! There are plenty of easy cookery books and videos available for anyone able to read and follow clear instructions. Basic cooking, using simple, fresh ingredients, does not require hours in some "domestic science" room learning how to cook unhealthy, high-fat, high-sugar bakery products or fatty puddings. What children do need to be taught is how to *choose* healthy products in the first place. This can be done ideally at the butchers' and greengrocers' shops, but otherwise through watching videos.

  • Comment number 22.

    I believe that cooking is a fundamental survival skill necessary for teaching good nutrition and to teach the pupils how to take care of their long term health regardless of gender. In today's mad rush life style too many families have lost the art of sitting down to a home cooked meal, communicating as a group, spending half an hour engaged in each others lives. This may seem a stretch but too many families settle for microwave or take away meals eaten in front of the telly with no communication, no connections between family members made or strengthened.
    Learning to cook at school encourages children to enjoy cooking to find it a pleasure rather a chore. With simple health and safety of the correct storage and cooking of foods being to taught in tandem can avoid food poisoning.
    Without teaching the pupils how to cook how will we discover the next Ramsey or Smith? how will the shy / non-academic pupil find a passion to give shape and purpose to attending school.
    Teaching cooking is so much more than just how to boil water .. it will help shape our nations childrens' health. So bring it back!

  • Comment number 23.

    We have the same issues in Ireland - learning to cook/bake is not deemed to be important anymore and yet our governments are giving out about the level of obesity caused by fastfoods etc, and the cost in Health to the taxpayer. Simple steps like Home Economics, Domestic Science - call it what you will - is so important for our children. It is a life skill that can be taken anywhere in the world, using fresh local products. But lets not forget that like alot of other things in life we cannot expect our education system to do 100% of our childs learning. It should start at home. It is so true that if you get your child involved preparing food they will understand that dinner doesn't come from the freezer but freshly prepared and tastes much better. They also get the satisfaction that they made something practical that can be shared. I learnt to cook from a very early age and now I love teaching my own daughter Molly who is now 10 and competent and capable of making scones and bread on her own - I just have to put them into the oven and take them out!! Another benefit it quality time and fun with my daughter. Now I am teaching her how to knit - another life skill I learned from my mother and aunt.

  • Comment number 24.

    Home Ec was one of my favourite classes at school!! It was probably the most popular lessons we had! We only got to go once a week and cooking was only for one term (woodwork and sewing were a term each too). We had a vegetarian teacher (which at the time was unusual and we weren't overly keen about) but we did learn about vegetarian cooking and also adapting recipes to make them non-vege! - Sounds odd now, but back then in NZ vegetarian wasn't really done! We learnt how to cook meals - soups, stirfry, mexican, indian and much more. I still even use some of the recipes now! We also had to cook the meal ourselves for our family sometime that week as homework - it gave us a sense of achievement and responsibility as well, not to mention the ability to cook quick and easy meals! It astounds me the number of people who can't cook for themselves (my brother has the ability to find new girlfriends who can't even boil an egg!) Ready Meals in the UK, are easy and cheap (relative to other countries), parents are working and too tired to cook, skills aren't being passed down to the next generation(s) which is scary - and highlights where schools and the education system should step in!! Kids should be taught to cook when they are 10-12, and yes, I think it should be compulsory!

  • Comment number 25.

    School is the best place to begin to learn how to cook, which can be combined with learning nutrition in a fun way. I think our obesity epidemic has be fuelled (pardon the pun!) because two generations have not been taught the basics and so little cooking is done within some families. Children do not learn at home. Using food hygiene and perhaps aiming towards a certifiate woudl also be useful.

  • Comment number 26.

    As many young people can’t cook today I think it’s important that cooking became compulsory in schools and not only for girls. Look at our master chefs most of them are men.
    I am now 60+ and I find myself referring back to my schools cookery books now and then.
    It is an important skill and we ought to teach our children how to plan and use a kitchen, not just how to heat a pizza in the micro.

  • Comment number 27.

    I fervently believe that knowledge of food and the cooking of it is a basic life skill which must be taught in schools. Time was found in school curriculums many years ago, so why not now? It seems to me that the correlation between obesity and some other health problems and the lack of food knowledge and cooking skills is so obvious that I cannot understand why commonsense cannot prevail to return these vital subjects to the curriculum. Good health is so important and enables us all to live fuller, happier and more useful lives.

  • Comment number 28.

    My daughter, now 13, is a dab hand at baking and cooking and is being held back at school because other pupils don't even have the basic skills. I'm not blaming the parents but the education system. Cooking should be compulsary to boys and girls even if it's just the basics. It is all too easy to open a jar or roll out ready made pastry these days.

  • Comment number 29.

    Both my girls did cooking at school (two different schools), and from my point of view it was the most painful process ever. Talk about the perfect way to put someone off eating decent stuff for life!

    The trouble is that at school they don't teach cooking at all really. What you get is some lame brained recipe surrounded by a ton of facts that no one is interested in.

    They learned that Fricassee is a fried chicken dish with a pie crust on top or mashed potato on top. (No, that is called a PIE!)

    They learned how nutrition is calculated in the manufacturing process.

    They learned about artificial preservatives.

    One of them had to cook pizza. Since I regularly make pizza at home, I took her through how the "mamas" ccok them in Napoli.

    We made the dough with 00 grade pizza/pasta flour. Once raised we put it into balls and let it stand a while. Then rolled out the dough and immediately put on a topping of rich tomato purée.

    We tore up some strips of mozzarella and put that on top with lots of torn basil leaves. Then STRAIGHT into the oven at a seriously high temperature. Here is the teacher's thoughts:

    1. The basil will burn (er ... I think you will find it is meant to)
    2. You should have let the base rise so it is thick and fluffy (Sorry, but have you ever eaten a proper pizza?)
    3. You should cook it at a lower heat. (What the hell are you trying to make? Waffles?)

    In exasperation I sent the teacher an article about the pizzeria in Naples that had won the coverted best pizzeria prize several times. It showed thin pizzas (un proved) being put into an oven that was so hot (875°F) that they cooked in about 2 minutes - to perfection. And they had lots of burnt basil on top!

    I taught how to cook pizza to a pile of 11 year olds many years ago. By the end of the lesson there was flour everywhere (they also got to learn how to use the huge school vacuum cleaner), the oven was in melt down and there was tomato puree stuck to the ceiling.

    But at day's end there was a row of 30 perfect Italian Margherita pizzas, hot and ready for the parents to eat then and there when they arrived to collect their little darlings (and not a pineapple cube or lump of chicken tikka in sight). The kids stood proudly by their pizzas, grins all over their faces. Most of the parents had never had a proper pizza before, just the rubbish you get at Pizza Hut. They loved them - genuinly. One parent told me that she normally feared trying anything her kid cooked at school. Another that her child hated cooking, hated tomatoes, hated good cheese and hated anything that was not a waxy cheese burger bought from a take-away van. There was her child, huge grin, stuffing his face with beautiful, home cooked pizza - he even put some extra fresh basil on top and ate that too.

    That was 15 years ago - my children from back then (I have had two batches!) still are in contact with their friends and you know what? They still all cook home made pizza.

    Food cooking and good food knowlege can be taught as long as you stick to some very rigid principles:

    • Leave the science OUT of the mix
    • Don't waffle on about manufacturing
    • Don't try and teach about nutrition.
    • And get a teacher who knows what he/she is talking about and thinks that her lessons should be outrageous.

    If you make it fun, always use the PROPER ingredients, make sure your food is stuffed with flavour, and give the kids a shock once in a while (you should have seen the kids at a garden birthday party challenging each other to eat mussels and chomp on fried soft shell baby crabs - shell and all!), then the idea of nutrition, eating fresh food and a balanced diet will fall into place anyway. If they think that a tomato salad dressed with a sprinkling of olive oil, some anchovy fillets and black pepper is wonderful, then that is what they will eat.

    The trouble is that schools never taught it like that when I was a kid in the 60s and they don't teach it like that now. Cooking and academia should never be in the same recipe!

  • Comment number 30.

    salemslot wrote:

    My daughter, now 13, is a dab hand at baking and cooking and is being held back at school because other pupils don't even have the basic skills. I'm not blaming the parents but the education system.

    ###########

    Er, no, I would blame the parents.

    I assume you daughter cooks because you do. Good cooking is passed down through generations - but so is bad cooking. If you make wonderful salads or delicious roast beef, then so will your offspring. If you make gravy from bisto and chuck all those lovely meat juices down the plug hole, then so will your child.

    The best thing for schools to do is to run classes in the evening teaching the parents how to cook. If the kids are seeing great food (and it can be great CHEAP food too) at home as well as being taught fun cooking at school, then the message will sink in. If the parents can't be bothered, then the lessons learned at school will soon fade and die.

  • Comment number 31.

    Of course, cookery should be complusory in schools. I am a prime example of a child who grew up in a household where cooking and food were regarded only as a necessary evil required to stay alive. I learned to cook in school, enjoyed the results so much so that I went on to train as a Domestic Science Teacher. Later I expanded my culinary skills and developed an interest in many different styles. In a time when so many people are hard pushed financially it is a skill which enables families to eat well on a budget. For good health, nourishing food is an essential. I also think this should be taught hand in hand with basic nutrition as it requires both before it becomes truly useful in later life. I also agree with the comment that both boys and girls should be taught this subject particularly as the number of single households are on the increase and also because many young people are forced to leave home quite young either for work or for further eduction.

  • Comment number 32.

    yes without a doubt cooking should be taught in schools especially as it encompasses so many other subjects as well!It is also an easier way to see practical ways to help the environment.

  • Comment number 33.

    It is essential that food is taught in school. Many parents are part of the lost generation for health and nutrition and are unable to pass on this essential information to children. Junk food, fast food, health food, low salt, low fat, low calorie. There has never been a greater need for food in the curriculum.

  • Comment number 34.

    Yes, cooking should definitely be taught in schools. As an ex-headteacher I can tell you that we now have families who do not know how to cook. Food is either convenience or take-away. It is an uphill struggle trying to teach about a healthy diet when neither children nor their parents will eat vegetables and do not know how to cook them.
    At my school we ran a gardening club, grew the veg then cooked it and ate it, but there was often resistance to the eating of it. The children loved the growing and the cooking.
    My own mum was a wartime cook, trying her best to feed a family on very little. It was thanks to cookery classes when I was a teenager at school that I learned about apple pie, suet pudding and meat and two veg.No-one. either in my family or in my school was fat. It was just unknown, but we were all hungry.

  • Comment number 35.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 36.

    A generation or two who cannot cook are the customers for an industry beloved by Mrs. Thatcher, the Added Value Industry.....a simple example, of their product, the polythene packaged, pre-washed, pre-chopped vegetable. The recipe book has been supplanted by "Display until","Best before" and "Use by" notices on the bags.

 

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