A nation-wide survey of teachers and stakeholders on food education across the UK
At the end of 2022, researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University shared an online survey to explore the opinions and experiences of food education teachers across the UK. The core focus of the research was to explore barriers to practical food education encountered by pupils in secondary/high schools across the UK. A secondary focus of the research was to explore the potential contribution of food education to tackling food insecurity and promoting well-being.
The Importance of Food Education for Schools and Society
Practitioners perceive that food education is undervalued and under resourced. Even those who might dispute this claim would agree that food education imparts lifelong skills and prepares young people for work in tourism and hospitality, both service industries that make important contributions to the UK economy. These industries have been impacted in recent years by Brexit, Covid and now a cost-of-living crisis, which has resulted in a shortage of skilled food service professionals. Public food provision in our schools, hospitals, universities, care homes, prisons and miliary services need a steady supply of skilled workers to promote our national health and well-being. Food education is also important in and for schools. Affording young people more opportunity to access a curriculum that reflects their interests and allows their talents to flourish will enrich the school experience of more young people.
The Ingredients for Success? report was published on the 19 May 2023.
Louise T Davies, Founder Food Teachers Centre, said: “This reports provides clear evidence about the ‘post-code lottery’ of ingredients provision in food education across the UK. Some children are being denied opportunities to learn about the breadth of foods available and develop their food skill repertoire, a must for social and cultural inclusion. All children must have the equal chance to learn about healthy eating and where food comes from, as well as how to cook, irrespective of their families financial situation. Providing ingredients is key to furthering food education for our future generations, as well as fostering children’s healthy habits and wellbeing.”
The report published the following next steps:
- Campaign for cost free food education. The research demonstrates strong support for cost free food education across the UK, with most practitioners opining it should be free, and that cost was a barrier to participation. Support is found throughout the UK but is strongest in Scotland where the Scottish Government has already committed funds to local government to enable core curriculum charges for food education to be waived.
- Campaign for an extended period of compulsory food education. The research demonstrates strong support for providing pupils with access to food education for more of their school education. There is a perception among teachers of food education that the subject is valued by other stakeholders.
- The need for national conversations of food education. Notwithstanding UK-wide support for cost free food education, there is significant variation across the UK, which suggests the need for national conversations to explore the UK-wide issues raised in this report, and those aspects of food education that are more pertinent to that nation. For example:
- Northern Ireland. It would be interesting to explore why there appears to be stronger support in Northern Ireland for parental contributions to food education, relative to other parts of the UK.
- It would be interesting to explore why – with a Curriculum for Excellence that values inter- disciplinary learning – there is less support for food education to work more closely with social subjects to better understand food insecurity issues.
- It would be interesting to explore why smaller schools and schools with more disadvantaged pupils appear to offer more progressive approaches to some key aspects of access to food education.
- It would be interesting to explore the prospects for a wider range of options for food education being made available to pupils (also applies to England).
- Hidden cost of food education. Providing ingredients, equipment and accessories are hidden costs. It would be useful to better understand the total cost to families of food education across the UK, and to reflect on whether these asks are reasonable and just.
- Promoting exemptions. Although a range of exemptions are used to ensure that disadvantaged families have access to food education, there is evidence that these are not being promoted to parents: this could be rectified.
- Share practice in response to non-provision. A wide range of responses were reported when pupils did not provide ingredients, payments, equipment, and accessories, which were asked of them. Some of these were punitive, others were grounded in inclusive principles to access food education. It would be useful to raise awareness of the wide range of ways in which schools are responding to this issue, and to work toward some agreed principles to achieve equity.
- Increasing hardships. There was strong evidence from all four UK nations that the hardships experienced by families in the cost-of-living crisis of 2022-23 were impacting on pupils’ experiences of food education. There is a need to reflect on how schools should respond, and the extent to which food education should adapt practices.
- Technician support. There is a need to reflect on the problems that were reported over a lack of technician support. There is a need to focus on the implications in smaller schools, where a lack of support was most evident.
- It was reported that there was a lack of investment in equipment and facilities for food education in the current school year. There is a need to reflect on the longer-term consequences if there is under- investment in food education.
- Connecting to wider issues. There is support for promoting an understanding of the wider role of food in a healthy society, exploring how food education might be aligned to physical education to promote well-being, and to social subjects to promote a better understanding of food insecurity. The prospects for aligning food education to these wider issues – and other such as sustainability and community wealth-building – should be explored.