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Don't get your fingers burnt

Now food technology is firmly on the primary menu, schools have an opportunity to improve facilities. But how? Jenny Ridgwell explains.

Now that food is firmly on the curriculum as a material for design and technology for key stages 1 and 2, many primary schools are looking more carefully at where and how they are going to carry out their designing and making activities using food.

Victor Seymour infant school in Sutton decided that food technology was a valuable part of their curriculum and has spent the past two years raising funds to create a designated food area. Teachers had found the existing food trolleys cumbersome to use in the classroom and now a reclaimed part of the school cloakroom is fully equipped with kitchen units which are the right weight for infants, a fridge freezer, cooker, hob and microwave.

But a designated area is not essential. Food activities can be part of a busy classroom as long as the pupils work on clean surfaces and prepare themselves for food work by washing their hands and wearing aprons or overalls.

Food technology is about designing and making food and is essentially different from cooking, which is usually about following a recipe. When pupils are designing with food they learn how to taste foods and experiment with ingredients. Activities include disassembling products, so they can take muesli apart to find out what it is made from, and they design and make their own.

You don't need a huge amount of equipment but it must be clean and safe to use. A box of tools and equipment for up to six pupils can be kept for food work. Make sure it is clearly labelled "Food technology" to stop people using it for mixing paints or play dough. One teacher saw a mixing bowl being used as a sick bowl and decided to lock food equipment away!

A cooker is not particularly important. Many products can be designed and made without heating them up - for example, sandwiches, fruit salads, drinks and savoury dips - which makes food work much safer and easier to manage in the primary classroom. I've seen too many portable cookers precariously balanced on desks to recommend baking things in the classroom, and pupils can easily get burnt by touching the hob as it cools.

A fridge which operates at 5 degrees centigrade or below is essential for storing perishable food for a limited time. Most staffroom fridges can be cleaned up and tested with a fridge thermometer to check that they are operating at a low enough temperature. Again, good hygiene is important - soil experiments in the fridge should be stopped if food is stored there!

Schools can buy fully equipped food trolleys for Pounds 400-Pounds 500 which can be moved and used by all classrooms, unless access is difficult. Food tool boards which cost about Pounds 70 provide a range of cooking utensils and are a flexible resource which can be easily carried about the school.

Pupils can have great fun tasting food. If they design and make a soup they need to taste it to see if it has enough flavour and add some herbs or spices if they want to change their product. Have a tasting box with spoons, paper cups and plates ready so that pupils can taste the food hygienically. You can make a tasting boot with pieces of card, and pupils can taste food privately on their own and fill in tasting charts. Some schools get pupils to fill in their tasting results on a computer spreadsheet and print out the results.

The initial funding for the food technology area at Victor Seymour infant's came through the Sutton Education Business Partnership when the school won an award for linking with their local college and an airline caterer for a food project. This money was the trigger to raise funds through school friars and then local businesses helped with the kitchen layout and design and parents helped with equipment.

Ian Smith, Sutton's general inspector for education supported the development: "I was able to supply some funding towards this project through the Education and Business Partnership. Every school can access these resources through their own EPB and should apply through their LEA and Training and Enterprise Council".

Food technology in the primary school need not be expensive, but now that it has a firm place on the curriculum it is an opportunity to improve facilities and start working on exciting projects at all key stages.

Jenny Ridgwell is an educational consultant for food technology and author of Working with Food in the Primary School. Details from Ridgwell Press, PO Box 3425, London SW19 4AX

School guidelines for primary food technology are essential if the work is to be carried out safely and effectively.

Guidelines should address the following issues: * pupils will be tasting food, so a letter must be sent to parents to check on special dietary needs and allergies and keep records of returns * decide who is responsible for the equipment and maintenance * what is the routine for cleaning up before and after food work, and who washes tea towels and dish cloths?

* what do staff and pupils wear?

* who buys he food, how is it funded, where is it stored and for how long?

* what about training staff, parents and helpers in food technology?


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