Save A level food education – letter from Shirley Oldale

Dear Readers,
I am a food teacher and a health promotion specialist asking for your support to save A Level Food Education in England.  As many readers may know there is now a new GCSE called Food Preparation and Nutrition for Key Stage 4 combining all previous GCSE food courses into one from September 2016.
Unfortunately, on Thursday 16th July, OFQUAL (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) announced that the study of ‘Food’ is to be removed as an A Level option, meaning the last ever cohort of A Level ‘Food’ students will enrol this September.
This decision was taken by Government without consultation with food teachers, students, the exam boards, all universities offering food related courses and many other professional bodies.
Nowadays, as most readers will know, food education is not just about baking cakes or making meals and bringing them home at the end of the school day. Food education involves learning about foods, ingredients, processes and techniques, experimenting, investigating and testing food products, being creative and designing new food products and understanding how a product is developed in industry. It involves understanding the science of food, understanding about nutrition, diet and health and making choices as a consumer while considering moral, social and environmental issues.
The Government is planning to remove A Level food completely from the curriculum yet, ironically, they are pledging to spend millions on youth mental health, and statistics on young people’s health in general are worrying. Food teachers nationwide are campaigning and are asking other health professionals to call on the Government to reconsider this and to develop food as a stand-alone subject which incorporates nutrition, food science and health and appeals to universities and helps to educate our future generations in a holistic way. If the Government remove Food at A Level, students in England will not have the choice to study food after GCSE. Yet students in Scotland and Northern Ireland will still have that choice.
At Wakefield Girls’ High School (WGHS) we teach A Level students about the impact of food and eating habits on mental, physical, emotional, social and spiritual health. We define and differentiate between definitions of health, discuss the social determinants of health and look at many health promotion strategies. We highlight the impact of diet on dental health, including the benefits of a balanced diet. We spend time examining current research findings in terms of dental health, such as the NHS statistics, and often critically reflect and debate headlines from news articles. As one in 10 young people between the ages of 5-16 have a diagnosable mental health disorder we are also concerned about mental health promotion. We look at the role of food in mood regulation and foods that can have a positive and negative affect on mental health. We encourage pupils to eat mindfully.
Many of the students we teach are interested in careers in food science, nutrition, dietetics, psychology, medicine, teaching, nursing and dentistry. They choose to study food at A Level because they enjoy it and they understand its importance in giving them a wealth of knowledge on the impact of diet, nutrition and eating habits on health. It also allows them to apply health messages in a practical and independent way which is often more meaningful.
Below is a comment from a student at WGHS who has recently received her A Level results. She was shocked at the Government plans to abolish A Level food.
According to Pippa Lister (aged 18):

“Studying Food AS opened up a lot of doors for me and given me a huge amount of confidence which I believe has helped me achieve other goals. It taught me a lot about nutrition and the problems we as a population now face with health-related nutrition. Not only did I learn about the more common health problems, such as diabetes and obesity, but also about deficiency diseases. I feel that the development element of the course has also provided me with useful knowledge that I will be able to use in a medical career. I chose to develop a gluten-free dish and therefore the development process taught me lots about the problems faced by those requiring gluten-free diets, such as the lack of certain nutrients in their diet. AS Food also encouraged many other skills. It taught me about working to exact standards, following instructions, working within a timescale and keeping costs in control. It also developed my creativity and my evaluation skills.”
We all eat to live. If we devalue the importance of the subject of food in schools we devalue the importance of food in the eyes of the public. Therefore, it will not help to fight the increasing diet and health related issues that are common in our society. I urge you as a passionate health educator to ask the Government to reconsider reinstating A Level Food Technology with a nutrition, food science and health-based A Level.
Please help us as food teachers to continue to promote overall health and wellbeing in our subject area by responding to the consultation of D&T A Level and ask for Food A Level to be reconsidered or at least consulted on broadly so that food industry, universities, health professionals and teachers can have their say. Visit: http://www.education.gov.uk/consultations and select ‘Reformed GCSE and A Level subject content consultation’, where you can select the ‘respond online’ option and respond directly to question 2a (consultation of D&T A Level). The closing date for responses is the 24th September 2015.
Additionally, you can raise your concerns by emailing your local MP or by emailing huntj@parliament.uk or Nicky.morgan.mp@parliament.uk.
Thanking you in advance, with very best wishes,
Shirley Oldale
Head of Food Technology (Wakefield Girls’ High School), B.Ed (Home Economics, Ireland) M.Sc (Health Promotion, Leeds)

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