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A stir aboard the bus

Reva Klein hails the Cooking Bus for promoting a practical approach.

Eugh," a group of six-year-olds chorus in harmony as they survey the carrots, tomatoes, leeks and coriander laid out on the shiny work surfaces before them. "Vetch-tibbles."

An hour-and-a-half later, they are merrily munching those selfsame objects of disgust, now transformed into life-enhancing morsels known as bruschetta. They may not have known their anchovies from their artichokes or salmonella from salmon, but after 90 minutes inside a gigantic pantechnicon known as the Cooking Bus, these children are much the wiser about healthy eating and the importance of being fastidious in the kitchen. And they will have touched, prepared, eaten and enjoyed food that most of them have never experienced before.

In a world where GCSE food technology students can spend three hours studying the sociology of sandwiches and then another hour tasting bought ones before they actually put hand to bread, and where key stage 3 pupils spend 16 weeks learning about biscuit products before rolling their sleeves up and getting on with it, Focus on Food's Cooking Bus offers hands-on food experience as a way of complementing and challenging the national curriculum. It also runs training sessions for food technology teachers.

Funded and resourced by Waitrose Food, the bus is the flagship of the Design Dimension Educational TrustRSA Focus on Food Campaign, which works to raise the profile and highlight the importance of food education. Where the curriculum ploughs a lot of time into investigation, design and research on food, Focus on Food is primarily about making, cooking and eating the stuff as well as about safety in the kitchen, hygiene and nutrition. Jill Luke, advisory teacher for Focus on Food, accompanies the bus to schools around the country. As many secondary as primary schools register for a free visit. "We've found a lack of skill and knowledge as much in secondary as primary schools. Because of a shortage of specialist teachers, you can find geography teachers teaching food technology - unenthusiastically and with no previous training," says Jill.

There is also a climate in some schools, she finds, of not wanting to splash out on ingredients because teachers think: "Why spend money on it? All they're oing to do is eat it." Because the Cooking Bus makes use of quality ingredients and occasionally exotic fruit and vegetables, parents and teachers say to Jill Luke: "It's all right for you, you're getting all the food you want without having to worry about the costs."

"The problem with that," she says, "is that they're not regarding food technology as part of the curriculum. When you look at the costs of other subject areas, what's being spent for our sessions is not much." The idea of using all fresh ingredients is to shift attitudes away from ready-made foods. When children come home bearing the delicious fruits of their labours, the parents see that culinary horizons can be widened.

There is also a strong curriculum development in the work of Focus on Food. A current project with a secondary school in Macclesfield and its feeder primaries links food technology with health promotion. The secondary food technology teacher is sharing her expertise and facilities with primary colleagues. In addition, the Year 8 children are working with primary children, teaching them food preparation.

Focus on Food produces its own free teaching and learning materials which have a strong practical emphasis and come complete with teachers' notes. This year the theme of the material is multicultural food practices. Next year, it will be emphasising the literacy and numeracy links of food preparation. There is also an annual Focus on Food Week, this year from June 26 to 30 . The emphasis of the week is on preparing, making, presenting and sharing food in different social contexts, and 2,000 participating schools will receive learning materials and teaching support.

For teacher Alison Taylor of Haywood High school in Hereford, being involved with the Cooking Bus and Focus on Food is "a great experience for all of us. Among other things, it's made me more aware of talking about ingredients, being more organised, being a lot more adventurous as a teacher and not being frightened of children being more adventurous. It allows us to focus on basic cooking skills, which is what food technology should really be about."

To register with the Focus on Food Campaign and book a visit from the Cooking Bus, contact Lucy Burns, tel: 01422 383191 or e-mail

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