The food and health strand of the new curriculum is an opportunity and a challenge to many schools, especially those primary schools where the topic may not have been tackled previously and where facilities and resources are limited.
In Prestonpans the primary and secondary schools in the area are addressing this by getting together to share expertise. The result has been a series of CPD ‘twilight sessions’ run by Preston Lodge High School for the benefit of its cluster of five primary schools. And it seems to be working.
Home economics teacher and health and well-being co-ordinator Liz Nichol explains that when teachers at Preston Lodge started examining what was needed for food and health from early years right the way through to age 18, they quickly realised they needed to work with their primary school colleagues.
“I thought: we already have the food and health specialists in secondary schools in the form of home economics and food technology teachers and this really lends itself well to a cluster approach with the secondary teachers helping the feeder primary teachers.”
Such an approach would also be mutually beneficial. “We could help ensure what was being delivered in the primary setting fitted with the secondary syllabus and vice-versa.”
Over a period of two weeks Liz and her colleagues held four CPD sessions on different topics in the food and health strand of the curriculum. Between 10 and 15 teachers from the feeder primary schools attended each session.
Three of those topics aligned with the main syllabus topics – nutrition, safe and hygienic practice and food and the consumer. The fourth was devoted to practical food skills and during the two-hour session teachers were shown how to create different recipes, ranging from a couscous salad to Caribbean fruit cake.
This session, which was very practically based, was extremely popular with the teachers, Liz reports. “We allowed staff to take over as much as possible. We also showed how different the approach would need to be if you were teaching primary year one compared to primary year six.”
The emphasis throughout was on a “can do” approach, she adds. So although teachers were told about the importance of an initial risk assessment, they were also assured that if done sensibly it should not run foul of health and safety and that the skills being imparted were sufficiently generic for any teacher to employ.
Teachers also started to realise this was about imparting particular skills rather than having to make a meal from start to finish, says Liz. One teacher found it particularly instructive to learn about some of the techniques for cutting vegetables, for instance. “She realised this could be used to make simple things like a dip or vegetable crudités. She’s now thinking: we can do this on a skills basis.”
Liz and her colleagues have followed up these initial sessions with two further refresher sessions and the evaluation has been positive. “They are saying we can do something here.”
Preston Lodge already encourages children from the feeder schools to work with secondary pupils on food and health topics and it is hoped the cross- fertilisation will continue.
This can sometimes be an eye-opener. For example, it is clear to Liz when she demonstrates cutting, coring and peeling an apple that many of the children – who are 10 or 11 – have never done this before, at school or at home.
She encourages them to take any chance they can to cut and peel fruit and vegetables when they are at home because that will help prepare them for what they will be expected to undertake once they are at high school.
She is delighted that food and health now play such a central part in the new curriculum. And she is optimistic that in time this can start to have an impact on the rising tide of obesity.
“I think children are becoming much more aware of health issues and their potential impact,” she says. “But although they often know what they should be doing, actually putting it into practice is a different story. But if everybody is approaching it in a similar way it will definitely have an impact in the long-term.”
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