Stepping up – rather than levelling up – food education

food education

Yesterday the UK government published its long-awaited ‘levelling up’ White Paper, a sprawling 332-page document covering everything from employment, pay and productivity to what it calls ‘pride in place’. The vision is based on a ‘Medici model’, drawing inspiration from Renaissance Italy. Health and wellbeing feature, of course: current outcomes are grossly unequal across the population. Diet is a key factor in health inequalities. The government’s plan makes several promises about food and healthy eating in schools. The idea of a “school cooking revolution” sounds exciting; food information posted on school websites and an aspiration for every school-leaver to be able to cook six recipes less so. An official statement from the education secretary about levelling up does not refer to food education. The LBL view is that food education and healthy eating must be at the heart of any long-term strategy for improving children’s physical wellbeing.

The White Paper talks about an expectation (initially, at least) that schools will publish information on their website about their whole-school approach to food. There is also to be a pilot project involving the Food Standards Agency to inspect the quality of food offered in schools. The most eye-catching bit, however, is the promise of “a school cooking revolution”, with investment of £5m, including the development of brand-new content for the curriculum, bursaries for teacher training and leadership, and money for governor training.

The White Paper also refers to the 2021 National Food Strategy. This independent report was commissioned by the government and was led by Henry Dimbleby. It described the country’s eating habits as a “slow-motion disaster”, and labelled the government’s approach to food education as “inadequate” and implementation of the 2014 School Food Plan as “weak”. Five of its 14 recommendations focused specifically on children and young people. In particular, it called for a concerted whole-school approach to food education.

In November 2021, following the publication of new figures from NHS Digital suggesting that there had been a “significant increase” in obesity rates among children in England as a result of the Covid pandemic, we asked about progress on the Dimbleby report. Other official figures showed that one in three children leaving primary school are overweight or living with obesity and that one in five are living with obesity.

In blogs such as Ready Steady Cook! Empowering children to eat healthily we have argued that food education and healthy eating must be at the heart of any long-term strategy for improving children’s physical wellbeing.

The LBL approach organises learning around three elements:

  • knowledge
  • knowhow
  • practice

The LBL approach makes life itself the primary purpose of the learning, integrating the subjects of the traditional curriculum into nine life-learning themes. The Body is one of the nine themes:

  • learning about the body itself — knowledge
  • learning how to look after the body — knowhow
  • applying the knowledge and knowhow — practice

A Body learning programme would include teaching children about nutrition and healthy eating as well as helping them to learn the basics of how to cook healthy meals.

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