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Chefs In Schools

Chefs in the making?
With cookery lessons being made compulsory in England's secondary schools, the BBC's Sarah Campbell visited a London school to see how the subject was taught.

Compulsory cookery classes are part of an attempt to tackle obesity

Jo Richardson Community School has always taken cookery lessons very seriously.

The mixed comprehensive in Dagenham, east London, has about 1,200 pupils, and has a training kitchen in the form of a vast classroom which boasts more than 10 ovens.

In the kitchen, where stainless steel work units face an interactive white board showing the ingredients for today's dish, a class of 11-year-old Year 7 pupils are learning to bake bread.

The students have three hours of food and catering lessons every two weeks.

Usually this is broken down into a two-hour practical class with a further hour of instruction in food science.

In Year 8, when pupils are 12 and 13, cooking makes way for other subjects in the curriculum, but returns to the compulsory syllabus in Year 9.

It's important for our health in the future and we don't need to rely on the microwave to cook


About a quarter of the students go on to study a GCSE in Food and Catering.

Back to Year 7, where the class of 15 pupils listen eagerly to teacher Linda Buonaiuto.

Soon all the youngsters are kneading their dough and then plaiting it into different shapes. They are clearly enjoying what they are doing.

Eleven-year-old Charlie excitedly explains how in previous lessons they have made fruit salad and a vegetable soup, which went down very well with her family.

She adds that the lessons are a fun alternative to other classes.

"We get to learn loads of other stuff instead of just being in boring lessons doing nothing," says Charlie.

Health posters

Meanwhile, Daniel explains that cookery lessons are important because "at home our mums will be impressed, we can cook again and enjoy it".

The youngster adds: "It's important for our health in the future and we don't need to rely on the microwave to cook."

As well as learning about cookery they also learn about the ingredients.

Covering the walls are posters with pictures of healthy and unhealthy food groups.

Descriptive diagrams explain the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables, as well as outlining the amount of each food group needed for a healthy dinner.

Linda Buonaiuto welcomed the focus on teaching cookery in schools

Tia agrees that learning to cook means you eat more healthily because you know what the food contains.

But it isn't all about fruit and veg.

The most popular dish they have made so far is apparently the chocolate Yule log, which was also popular with parents.

Mrs Buonaiuto, who has taught the subject for more than 30 years, believes the new focus on cookery lessons as "a good start" which means the government is "acknowledging that we should be teaching food in schools", although she says it is still not enough.

However, the teacher suggests the plans should allocate even more time to the subject than the hour a week for one term prescribed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

She says she has seen many changes and is glad to see that cooking is once again a priority.

But the teacher is not optimistic about the changes being brought into force by the 2011 - an aim expressed by ministers.

Parental support

She says it will probably be "quite difficult" to meet this deadline.

Mrs Buonaiuto is also worried about whether there will be enough qualified teachers, stressing that staff need to be properly trained.

And, highlighting the role of parents, she says: "It's very important that they are supporting the schools when they are teaching food and catering and encouraging students to cook at home."

Having been left to prove and then cooked in the oven for 10 minutes to emerge risen and golden - with the odd black exception - the rolls are ready for the students to take home.

Although many will go on to study food at GCSE, the school believes it is just as important that all of its pupils leave the school with a basic knowledge of how to cook.


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