Should cooking be compulsory for all secondary school students up to 18?

As a secondary school student myself and a lover of the subject, I believe cooking should be taught to everyone. People whole-heartedly agree but critics fail to see the feasibility of introducing compulsory cooking lessons for all. With the average time spent cooking dinner decreased from 90 minutes in the 1960s to just 32 minutes today, could we not learn a valuable lesson in how to cook good food?

Being brought up in a food environment with my parents’ Chinese takeaway, I always found food technology interesting. But for others they view it as a boring subject especially when you are learning about the Eatwell Plate and where the oven is. If we sparked an interest in food from when they come into secondary school, perhaps we wouldn’t have this problem. But of course, food technology really isn’t the same as cooking; food technology combines the designing of food packaging, manufacturing and industrial processes with cooking.

One of the biggest limitations is that there aren’t enough trained teachers. A poor quality teacher puts students off the subject. It’s their passion and ability to make cooking fun that stuck with me from my time doing GCSE food technology. If cooking was made compulsory, I’m sure we would see an instant surge in people looking for teacher training as the demand for cooking teachers increases. Seeing as only cooking would be taught and none of the manufacture, would it be plausible that cooking teachers simply need the ability to cook and work well with children? Maybe but it’s too hard to tell without having seen any of this firsthand.

Perfect Roast Potatoes 3Iced Lemon Biscuits

And then there’s the cost of introducing resources to schools nationwide. It’s expensive and few schools have the passion and energy to commit a lot of money to renovate and maintaining a brand new kitchen since for too many in the British school system, cooking is not important despite it being part of everyday life. Coming from a secondary school point of view, I don’t think schools teach us enough about the real life and going into university, I have no clue how to control finance, think about jobs or look for a house. Going out into the wider world blind with nothing but the faint memories of the Bayeux Tapestry in Year 7 is scary and by introducing cooking into the timetable, surely it would make that experience less frightening?

There’s also the pressure of bringing ingredients into school every lesson. So who pays for the ingredients, the parents or schools? I think the school should invest more money into the cookery system; buying from wholesalers would make funding cooking lessons cheaper and then there is no chance of students forgetting their ingredients, ruining their chance of cooking that recipe. For children whose parents aren’t able to buy ingredients for them, this means they don’t miss out. Alternatively parents could pay, at the start of the school year, money that will cover the cost of their cooking, something that will be determined by the teachers at the start of the year who should meticulously plan out their lessons so they know what they will cook and when. Obviously the school could subsidise for those parents who cannot afford this.

Chocolate Brownie Bowls Blueberry Muffin Loaf

No matter how much I wish for this to happen, unfortunately there is the restriction of the timetable. Timetables are strictly organised and to bolt on a few cooking lessons would make everything a mess. Perhaps those who are truly passionate about cooking could have an after school club or even a marathon weekend cooking session where they are taught much more advanced recipes, I for one would definitely attend. Making children feel they are good at something makes them much more focused and gives them direction. Of course there are further limits since lessons are around an hour long on average. Double lessons should be allocated to such subjects; by the time all the students are focused and ready to learn, there are 50 minutes left and that’s not enough time to teach a recipe. Double lessons would open up a whole world of possibilities. Class size may affect just what can be done. A large class would not be able to cook all at once if the school has a small kitchen, so splitting up the group whilst the other half does something else is not good. This emphasises the demand for teachers. The problem would be reduced if schools had large kitchen facilities but many schools do not even have a cookery room, let alone enough space to facilitate a cookery room.

Too many people do not know how to cook basic meals, let alone “pierce film lid and microwave for 6 minutes” or “preheat the oven to 200°C”. It’s clear we are a processed food, ready meal generation and compulsory cooking lessons can change this. Do we really need to know that starch cells start absorbing water at 60°C, are swollen to 5 times their size and burst at 80°C, gelatinisation is complete at 100°C and could form a gel on cooling? I don’t think so. Just because you know the process of gelatinisation, doesn’t mean you’ll remember how to make a white sauce for your coursework.

Black Forest Meringues Stromboli

Food technology is different to cooking. How about we start teaching children a new recipe every week with ingredients provided by the school, nothing fancy, the value range is all that is needed. Students are in pairs, each around their station with the necessary equipment already out on the table. Demonstrate the recipe alongside the students so they can see what you are doing perfectly. Once it’s cooked, let them eat it and by getting hands on under the control of the teacher guiding them through each step, with assistants helping if necessary, perhaps something will go in. Make something that is well liked by everyone e.g. cakes, pizzas or muffins that are also healthy and achievable at home. It should be up to the teacher to decide what they cook, this freedom will allow the passion of the teacher to shine through which could help get children excited about cooking.

I want to see cookery compulsory for all secondary school students up to the age of 18. We’ve made a start here in Britain and the Food Revolution Day is on Friday 15th May. I want to get into the food technology lessons at school that day (after my exam of course) and get the students passionate about food. Share to show your support for food education for all!

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11 thoughts on “Should cooking be compulsory for all secondary school students up to 18?

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  3. mypurplespatula

    As from September this year Food Technology will no longer exist as a subject, and will be replaced with Food Preparation and Nutrition. Cooking (or food) is compulsory at Key Stage 3 as it is incorporated into Design and Technology, and although no longer taught as DT material, elements of design still exist with development of foods based on cost, nutrition, science and sensory testing. All schools have had to deliver food tech for several years now and if no resources are available have to out source to other schools. Unfortunately many schools do not have a dedicated food teacher or it is within a carousel so teaching is not adequate, however all KS3 pupils are expected to make at least 10 products each year, mainly savory, that allow to develop a range of knowledge and skills. And yes it is relevant to understand the science behind how starch reacts, and how protein reacts to heat as it develops a better understanding of how food works, creating a better cook. Food science is now at the core of food teaching with food science investigations part of the assessment criteria at GCSE and integrated at KS3 alongside the teaching of food security and sustainability, much more developed nutritional knowledge, being a better food consumer (understanding food labels) and much more emphasis on development of key skills such as filleting fish and deboning a chicken. The curriculum has dramatically changed due to many food teachers, such as myself, working with the government and other agencies such as the BNF to raise the profile of the subject, and without this work we would still be at a stage where pupils are making pizzas and drawing pictures of them. I work really hard to develop a curriculum that pupils enjoy, giving them opportunities to try new foods and skills, learn how to cook healthy, nutritious meals and understand what is happening to their food as do many other food teachers. We also are part of the school food plan, working with our managers and outside agencies to ensure that all pupils are offered and are eating healthy food in schools. I’m also a lead practitioner in food and work with schools to develop their food curriculums to meet these standards. The food curriculum has changed dramatically and will continue to change for the better. I suggest you ‘Google’ the food teachers center (most food teachers in UK are a member)to see what kind of training and resources are available for teachers, as well as how passionate the majority of us food teachers are, we are also the only subject to have our own dedicated professional development portfolio that allows us to map our own skills and development to make us better teachers. Food as a subject is definitely miles ahead, unfortunately it’s still not delivered very well in some areas.

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    1. AndrewintheKitchen Post author

      Hi Sandra, thank you for commenting, this is very insightful! I’d like to open by saying this was written over a year ago and I am aware of the change to food preparation and nutrition and the shift towards savoury dishes from my own time spent at our school’s food department. Regarding the science, I believe that this is important yes, but not at a fundamental level. Many parents who I talked to at my school’s open evening, who read a copy of this post I printed out, said that they wanted food education to be geared more towards learning basic recipes that they could use to survive university etc. and I totally agree that food labelling, sustainability etc is important but getting people knowing how to fillet fish and cook healthy meals is what I really (hoped) wanted to promote in this post. I welcome the changes made to the education system in food, I will definitely research the food teachers centre, whilst I am not looking to teach food as a career, it may be something I consider, if I want to make a change, which you have done. Lots to think about there Sandra, thank you!

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  6. nagggers delight

    Learning cooking shouldn’t be compulsory for the same reason as any other subject. Because people don’t want to. You shouldn’t force people to learn a subject just because you like doing it.

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    1. AndrewintheKitchen Post author

      True but it’s the fact that I like it that I feel passionately about this. Cooking is a part of everyday life and so many are denied to opportunity to learn how to cook good food that they don’t ever learn it, falling back on ready meals and processed food. Combatting obesity by food education is one further reason why cooking should be on the curriculum, teaching children how to cook good healthy food could reduce these levels of obesity in the UK. I do understand where you come from but my love of cooking means I feel strongly about this.

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    1. AndrewintheKitchen Post author

      Definitely. I couldn’t agree more especially working behind the counter in my parents’ Chinese takeaway. So many customers could learn a lot if they were in the kitchen during busy periods, expecting their order to be pushed forward. Interesting idea! 🙂

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