The case for food technology within D&T

This is a salutary tale with regard to curriculum politics and someone out there should write it up in detail – a series of interviews with those involved plus the email trails – a sure fire bet for the Journal of Curriculum Studies – a highly reputable journal. It is important to put the apparent fate of GCSE food technology (apparent because it is still the subject of consultation) into the broad context of the DfE’s responsibility to deal with the obesity issue. This goes back to 2007 when Foresight published Tackling Obesities – Future choices which clearly identified the problem as relating to the obesogenic environment in which we now live and gave guidance that indicated that this was a cross department problem i.e. it required coordinated and concerted action from Department of Health, Department for Education, Department for the Environment, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The complexity of the problem is clearly defined by the systems diagram on page 84 of the report (below).

Obesity system mapSince 2007 there hasn’t to my knowledge been much in the way of headlines indicating that the obesity problem in England is being solved. Hence all the government departments listed above are still being required to show that they are making efforts to alleviate the problem. For the DfE being able to report at cross department meetings that the new National Curriculum Programme of Study for Design & Technology (a compulsory area of the curriculum) contained a special section at each key stage entitled Cooking and Nutrition more than meets this requirement. The immediate question from the chair would be “What about after Key Stage 3?” and the DfE would need an answer. Food technology is part of D&T, and one would need to ask folk at the DfE what was the reason for it not fitting the bill for dealing with the obesity crisis? Hence the working party that produced the specification guidance for GCSE D&T that is now out for consultation was instructed that it should NOT consider food as a material for D&T as food would be the province of another, different working party.

The DfE commissioned Louise Davies to lead the food qualifications at KS4 working party. It was clear that Louise did not lead the working party as a representative of the D&T Association and the Association did make recommendations as to who should represent the place of food with regard to the Association’s position. I think it is fair to say that the Association expected that the working party would recommend a set of GCSE qualifications which included food technology (as well as cooking and nutrition) and which could be aligned to the recommendations of the D&T working party. However, this turned out not to be the case. And what ever input was made to the working party (which was very much a secret squirrel affair, all members of the working party being bound to secrecy with individual contributions being kept from other contributors) the end result has been a GCSE in cooking and nutrition with food technology as a GCSE subject being totally marginalized to the point where it does not exist.

And of course at the cross department meeting regarding the obesity problem the DfE can report that there is a GCSE in cooking and nutrition which builds on the statutory requirements at KS3 and that this is the only GCSE available hence all young people with an interest in food will be channeled towards this qualification which has as one of its main intentions to equip them to choose and cook food that is healthy with regard to combating the obesity crisis. It is easy to see the potential for this report in the Reformed GCSE and A level subject content consultation, September 2014

Page 6/7
The GCSE in cooking and nutrition is a new GCSE, intended to build upon the best of previous titles such as food technology, home economics, and hospitality and catering. With its introduction there will no longer be a food element included in the design and technology GCSE. This is in response to the feedback we have received from subject experts who have worked with awarding organisations on reforming that title. They advised that a food qualification at this level should focus on ensuring students acquire a good understanding of food and nutrition together with excellent cooking skills. It was felt that this would not fit with the changes proposed for GCSE design and technology. Creating two qualifications (GCSE design and technology, and a separate GCSE in cooking and nutrition) provides students with a much richer educational experience in each subject.

Page 9/10
There are currently three qualifications which relate to food and cooking – home economics, design and technology: food technology, and hospitality and/or catering. Ofqual has identified the risks to comparability of standards presented by overlapping content in different qualifications, which could be addressed by creating a single qualification. Subject experts were concerned that retaining the food technology content within the new reformed design and technology GCSE would prevent both cooking and nutrition, and design and technology from focusing on the essential knowledge and processes needed for each subject. We are therefore introducing a new GCSE in cooking and nutrition.

This new qualification is not solely based on the previous food technology, catering or home economics content, but draws upon and expands the best aspects of all three, while also including more of the scientific knowledge underpinning the preparation and cooking of food. The purpose of the qualification is to equip students with an in depth knowledge of cooking and nutrition, as well as the practical ability to apply this knowledge when cooking. The core knowledge will enable students to choose ingredients to cook with, taking account of nutritional needs and through a detailed knowledge of cooking processes, prepare a wide range of recipes.

The qualification will encourage students to make informed decisions about a wide range of further educational opportunities and career pathways as well as to develop vital life skills that enable them to feed themselves and others affordably and nutritiously, now and later in life.

So what to do about this in the short term?

  • The response to the GCSE D&T proposal could be to lobby heavily for food to be included in D&T
  • The response to the Cooking and Nutrition proposal could be to lobby heavily for a food technology GCSE ideally within D&T

Any such lobbying will have to make the case that food technology as part of D&T a) provides the opportunity for important learning about ‘food in the world’ that is not considered in the proposed cooking and nutrition GCSE and b) in no way detracts from the essential nature of D&T.

But before we sink into a slough of despond based on a ‘consultations at this stage make no difference’ position it’s important to look in some detail at the Cooking and Nutrition GCSE proposal. The stated aim of the proposed GCSE in Cooking and Nutrition reads:

GCSE specifications in cooking and nutrition must equip students with the knowledge, understanding, and skills required to cook and apply the principles of food science, nutrition and healthy eating. They should encourage students to cook and enable them to make informed decisions about a wide range of further learning opportunities and career pathways as well as develop vital life skills that enable them to feed themselves and others affordably and nutritiously, now and later in life.

Clearly this stated aim does not mirror the designer maker capability required for a D&T food technology GCSE

The learning outcomes read:

  • demonstrate effective and safe cooking skills by planning, preparing and cooking using a variety of food commodities, cooking techniques and equipment
  • develop knowledge and understanding of the functional properties and chemical processes as well as the nutritional content of food and drinks
  • understand the relationship between diet, nutrition and health, including the physiological and psychological effects of poor diet and health
  • understand the economic, environmental, ethical, and socio-cultural influences on food availability, production processes, and diet and health choices
  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of functional and nutritional properties, sensory qualities and microbiological food safety considerations when preparing, processing, storing, cooking and serving food
  • understand and explore a range of ingredients and processes from different culinary traditions (traditional British and international), to inspire new ideas or modify existing recipes

Much of this could sit within D&T food technology although the purpose of the learning outcomes is not framed as enabling designing and making with food although there is a nod in that direction with regard to the last bullet point “…to inspire new ideas or modify existing recipes”.

So a criticism could rest on there being no focus on designing and making as would be required for D&T food technology. The difficulty here is that the proposed Cooking and Nutrition GCSE deliberately and explicitly moves a consideration of food outside D&T so ‘no focus on designing and making’ doesn’t stand as a legitimate criticism. The Cooking and Nutrition GCSE by its own terms of reference is not required to engage candidates in designing and making. There has always been a tension within D&T food technology between teaching pupils to cook as a life skill and teaching pupils design & technology through the medium of food. This was articulated as long ago as 2006 in the Ofsted report Food technology in secondary schools

There is a fundamental and so far unresolved dichotomy between teaching about food to develop skills for living and using food as a means to teach the objectives of D&T. (Page 1)

Hence it can be argued that the Cooking and Nutrition GCSE seeks to resolve this dichotomy by explicitly avoiding those aspects required for designing and making.

If we delve a little deeper into the Cooking and Nutrition proposal we find the subject content divided into three sections

A Nutrition
B Food : Food provenance and Food choice
C Cooking and food preparation: The scientific principles underlying the preparation and cooking of food and Skill requirements: preparation and cooking techniques (including a very long list of specified skills)

There is no indication as to how this knowledge and skill will be assessed.

Food provenance contains these statements:

  • where and how foods are grown, reared, or caught and the primary and secondary stages of processing and production
  • how processing affects the sensory and nutritional properties of ingredients
  • the impact of food and food security on the environment, local and global markets and communities
  • technological developments that claim to support better health and food production, including fortification and modified foods with health benefits and the efficacy of these

These would find place in a D&T food technology GCSE to some extent. One question that arises is of course the depth to which the above features will be considered in the Cooking and Nutrition GCSE – a matter for the Awarding Organisations to decide.

Skill requirements: preparation and cooking techniques contains these statements

  • consider the influence of lifestyle and consumer choice when developing meals and recipes
  • consider the nutritional needs and food choices when creating recipes, including when making decisions about the ingredients, processes, cooking methods, and portion sizes
  • develop the ability to review and make improvements to recipes by amending them to include the most appropriate ingredients, process, cooking methods, and portion sizes
  • manage the time and cost of recipes effectively
  • use their testing and sensory evaluation skills, adjusting where needed, to improve the recipe during the preparation and cooking process
  • explain, justify and present their ideas about their chosen recipes and cooking methods to others

Clearly not focused on the design of new food products but more than a little decision making.

So given that the intention of the Cooking and Nutrition GCSE can be seen as resolving the dichotomy between teaching about food to develop skills for living and using food as a means to teach the objectives of D&T identified by Ofsted in 2006, is it really such a bad qualification? It is difficult to answer this definitively until the means of assessment is made clear. But assuming the means of assessment are appropriate and manageable …

It is important to consider the possible consequences of the disappearance of GCSE D&T food technology for the following:

  • Pupils
  • Teachers
  • The status of D&T as a subject in the school curriculum
  • School accountability measures

I’m not going to comment at the moment but I would welcome suggestions from others.

A question that must arise is what has happened (or not happened) for GCSE D&T food technology, which is one of the most popular GCSE D&T options at KS4 to become so marginalized that it can be deliberately eradicated by a DfE initiative. I believe this can be explained in terms of the development of and support for a strong food technology community of practice. That this has been severely neglected is evidenced by the number of initiatives that have been given prominence by the D&T Association in recent years. All the following received both government and industrial funding and embraced all the focus areas other than food –albeit textiles rather late in the day.

  • Electronics in Schools
  • Electronics in Schools Strategy
  • Digital Design & Technology

The deliberate aim of these interventions was to build local communities of practice that could respond to the national agenda for modernizing D&T. This has not been the case for food technology. The only initiative that I know of is Licence to Cook and this has been severely criticized in its evaluation as being inimical with regard to food technology (See Rutland, M. Licence to cook: the death knell for food technology Design and Technology Association International Research Conference Proceedings 2008). Without a robust and articulate community of practice food technology as part of D&T has no voice and no authority, hence easily marginalized.

I know it’s fashionable in some circles not to have a plan B but I think it would be unwise to think that responding to the consultation will be successful in leading to a reinstatement of food as a material area within D&T. The question, parked for the moment, is what to do about a food technology GCSE if the lobbying is unsuccessful? What would be worth teaching about food technology that isn’t already covered to some extent by the proposed Cooking and Nutrition GCSE? Again I’d welcome comments.

7 thoughts on “The case for food technology within D&T

  1. Richard Kimbell has some interesting and challenging thoughts on food it D&T. He notes that the practice of following routinized recipes has done little to enable a design-centred food industry programme. (For routinized recipe-following read ‘Licence to Cook’!) And he emphasizes the importance of the food industry as the biggest manufacturing industry in Britain with information from the Food and Drink Association (

    • The food and drink manufacturing industry is the single largest manufacturing sector in the UK, with a turnover of £92bn and Gross Value Added (GVA) of £24bn [1], accounting for 18% of the total manufacturing sector by turnover.
    • The food and non-alcoholic drink sectors represented by FDF turnover £78.7bn and generate GVA of £20bn, accounting for 15% of the total manufacturing sector by turnover.
    • The industry employs just over 400,000 workers. This represents 16% of the overall manufacturing workforce in the UK [2].
    • Our sector is an important trading partner with Europe: exporting almost £19bn of food and drink products a year, with just over £12bn made up of food and non-alcoholic drink exports, 76% of which go to the EU.
    • The industry is a key partner for British farmers: buying two thirds of all the UK’s agricultural produce. All this economic activity is carried out by just under 7,000 food and soft drink enterprises (7,766 including alcohol) – many of which are small companies employing less than 10 people.
    • Our sector invests over £350m in to R&D[3] which translated to over 16,000 new products in 2013[4]
    • Our industry has increased the productivity of its labour force over the last 10 years by 12% [5] leaving food and drink workers in the UK nearly 50% more productive than the EU average [6].

    And he asks a very pertinent question:
    How on earth have we managed to cock up the message that this is a key employer / key manufacturer / very design focused / very ‘now’ / and an absolute must for students to study?

    He answers as follows:
    The reason for the current mess is an unholy alliance of some deeply traditional practice in schools, along with a bunch of equally regressive politicians who see the death of Mum’s cooking at home as the worst of all things. Both sides hold a traditional culture of home cooking as their lode-star. And both are selling our students short by monumentally missing the points raised above by the FDA.

    To Richard’s mind we have missed an open goal by failing to engage with the creative elements of the food and drink world: creative chefs; creative restaurant owners; creative bars (with cryo-drinks); creative (and very technical) food manufacturers; creative fast food. Food and drink is absolutely central to our culture and our identity. But the identity is NOW … not the 1950s.

    So my view is that as with engaging the Chair of BAE Systems, Sir Dick Olver, to rescue the Programme of Study for D&T from the hands of inept politicians the question is who in the food and drink manufacturing (and service) industry should we approach to support a modern approach to food technology in the school curriculum?


  2. I am writing this from outside the subject. My very limited knowledge of D&T curriculum comes from my mum, Ruth Wright, who was and still is to some extent engaged in/with D&T curriculum development; and my husband, Maurice, who taught secondary D&T for about 7 years. My knowledge of the food technology curriculum is more limited still to what is included above. I am not in the field of secondary education but conduct sociological research about children, families and food. Your blog post got me thinking, David, so I thought I’d put a few thoughts down.

    ‘What would be worth teaching about food technology that isn’t already covered to some extent by the proposed Cooking and Nutrition GCSE?’

    D&T is about values, politics and ethics. It seems to me crucial to retain this in teaching about food.

    The idea of ‘food skills’ is both complex and contested. The ‘declining food skills’ narrative usually involves more or less explicit and/or sophisticated arguments about working or feckless mothers failing to cook for their families or teach their children to cook ‘from scratch’ (whatever that means). The facts are that actually all of us are in some ways ‘deskilled’, that the loci of food processing and cooking have relocated in no small part from the kitchen to the factory floor, and that in the context of the 24 hour society issues of time and timing are crucial to understanding how cooking and eating are socially organised. At the same time, and in this context, fostering our children’s food skills is absolutely crucial: being able to turn relatively unprocessed foods into things which are good to eat is essential to providing the possibility of some sort of independence from our increasingly unhealthy and unethical foodscape.

    It is not only the ‘skills’ to cook which need to be taught however but a fostering of critical thinking and consideration of possible alternatives to, as well as ways of living with, our corporatised contemporary food system. It is good to see that the Cooking and Nutrition GCSE retains the fundamental issues of food ethics and sustainability albeit apparently rather marginally. However an emphasis on ‘lifestyle’ and ‘food choice’ is to the apparent exclusion of food politics. Questions that might be foregrounded by a D&T approach might include ‘who has the power to determine the range of products and foods from which we (supposedly) ‘choose’?’ ‘Who has the autonomy to make such ‘choices’?’ and ‘how does all this relate to my status as a citizen and a consumer’?

    Food is an intimate and intrinsically political material commodity. Learning about and with food should entail its situation within the context of global corporate capitalism, nutritional inequality and the social determinants of health.

    In short, I would like to think that D&T would (continue to) bring ‘values’ to bear on teaching about food.

    Rebecca O’Connell
    Senior Research Officer
    Thomas Coram Research Unit
    Institute of Education, University of London


    • Excellent piece Rebecca. You’ve started the ball rolling in just the right direction. Even if food stays outside D&T (which I suspect is likely) then your comments are very relevant to whatever guise it takes outside the limitations of the current Cooking and Nutrition GCSE proposal.


  3. Hi Stewart. You may well be right about this (though I have reservations about Khan Academy, but that’s another conversation…).
    But, in the context of David’s post about the place of food in D&T, I assume this is a response to his question:
    “What would be worth teaching about food technology that isn’t already covered to some extent by the proposed Cooking and Nutrition GCSE?”
    If so, I’d be interested to hear you reframe/expand your comment in the context of Food Technology.


    • Quick reply to Torben, Governments have not been willing to tackle the Sugar industry, have been slow to enforce proper warnings labels, allows sweet vending machines in schools etc. Perhaps the tide will turn with obesity now so bad and early teeth damage due to sugary drinks.
      Food teachers try but the pressures to make cakes and eat promoted proceeded foods is not challenged seriously, in fact the media glamourises baking programs using lots of sugar.
      Food education has little chance against the sugar industry, convenience foods, coffee shops and eateries selling bigger and bigger portions. If Government were serious schools will have a chance to make a difference.
      Perhaps a broader view needs to be taken to include exercise, cycling / walking to school, summer camps where students undertake challenges including making own food etc.
      The subject could be renamed something like Health,Welfare and Cooking.
      Perhaps food within D&T could be more practically focused for specific purposes, to produce a range for a supermarket, for a fixed price bracket, to build a business, for somebody on very low low income. Designing packaging and promotion of food products Creating eating environments – user trips diagrams.
      Also possible – Using, designing making ‘keep fit’, food apps.


      • Thanks Stewart.
        I think that constitutes an argument that creating a food and nutrition GCSE won’t serve the purpose that is claimed for it? In which case why break a successful GCSE model?


  4. New entrants to education such as Khan Academy (link TED talks – Salman Khan) are challenging convenional ways of learning (inverted education). In this fast changing World it may time to invert the traditional ways of teaching D&T and focus on creativity and important processes using abstract and concrete examples. Very exciting courses could be developed.


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