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).
Since 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
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.
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
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:
- 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.
- CAD CAM
- 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.