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Cooking up controversy

January 24th, 2008

Dr Petra

For many years cookery classes were an essential part of our school syllabus. Children of all ages were able to learn simple recipes as a fun part of early years teaching, and latterly as a course in life skills needed for adulthood.

While teaching cookery was popular, some critics complained that aiming it more towards girls restricted other education activities they could be undertaking, and moves were made to include cookery classes for boys – and allow girls to try other subjects outside of ‘home economics’.

I can’t say I massively enjoyed my school cookery classes as there was always so much pressure to cook ‘neatly’ and endless copying out of recipes. I preferred the type of cooking where you throw a few ingredients together and see what happens, rather than the regimented approach we were set. But at least it wasn’t needlework, which was my idea of hell. And there was always the chance you could steal a few glace cherries from the cookery store cupboard on the sly.

Over time, pressures on teachers and changes to the national curriculum meant cookery classes went the way of much creative education and became parts of the curriculum that were ‘expected’ to be taught, but weren’t compulsory. In some schools they were kept on, but in many others they were dropped completely.

Today we’ve learned that cookery classes are about to see a comeback – a government response to our growing obesity crisis. Cookery classes are to be made compulsory for all children for at least one term and money will be made available for ‘food technology teachers’ as well as providing ingredients for children from low income homes.

Children will be taught how to make healthy and easy meals – so nothing like my school classes where we learned how to make apple turnovers, biscuits and other glorious stodge.

Most parents seem keen on the idea, and in general schools do not seem opposed. Although many teachers have been keen to point out how because cookery classes have been dropped in many places, it will be costly and disruptive to reinstall cookery equipment back into classrooms.

I’m all in favour of cookery classes. Despite finding mine dull on occasion. And I did learn to cook from school lessons (although I also learned more from my parents). Cookery lessons in schools are an excellent way of learning creative new skills, preparing children for adulthood, and enabling them to make health choices when they are older. They are particularly helpful for children who are not taught cooking skills at home.

And the same reasons apply for school sex education. Sex education lessons enable young people to make healthy choices, prepare for adulthood and enjoy positive relationships. They’re particularly helpful in a situation where parents are unable or unwilling to talk to children about sex related issues.

So while I’m in favour of the government encouraging a return to cookery classes, it’s a shame they still won’t be making school sex education compulsory. While we are undoubtedly facing future problems with a looming obesity crisis, we have a current sexual health crisis to contend with.

Because sex education remains an optional part of the curriculum it means many young people are not given adequate information to help them make positive choices about relationships. And given the highly sexualised culture we live in, it is shocking that we are so unwilling to give teenagers the skills they need to negotiate their way through life.

Teachers would like to teach sex education, but need support and training to do so. Many parents feel unable to talk about sex so would prefer someone else to do it. But the government remain convinced that making sex education compulsory would lose them votes and risk criticism from the media.

The answer is parent power. We need to tell the government very clearly that we want sex education to be made compulsory in all schools.

Because if they can make our kids learn about cookery, they can make our kids learn about healthy and happy relationships.

And ultimately that’s what we want, isn’t it? Happy and healthy children who grow into confident and capable adults. Ones who can enjoy good relationships while rustling you up a healthy snack.

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