Children are adept at designing food on computers, but they do not have a clue how to cook. Adi Bloom reports
Pupils regularly produce fresh, perfectly-browned scones for Colin Whitfield in their food technology lessons. Unfortunately, these scones are only two-dimensional.
Mr Whitfield, a design and technology education consultant, says food technology teaches pupils how to draw pictures of food, but leaves them with no idea how to mix ingredients or follow a recipe.
The future of food technology will be among the themes discussed at the annual DT show, being held in Birmingham next week. Mr Whitfield said: "We need to teach pupils how to use food to create exciting dishes. Instead, I see endless drawings of scones, coloured cakes and pizzas.
"Pupils spend their time drawing silly pictures and devising meaningless questionnaires. Then we have pupils leaving school knowing how to cook only burgers, sausages or ready-meals."
Schools have been working to improve pupils' eating habits since celebrity chef Jamie Oliver criticised the poor quality of school dinners and called for young people to be taught the importance of healthy eating.
But Mr Whitfield says that many pupils learn to cook in their spare time, to compensate for the lack of tuition in schools. He believes that cookery is in the design and technology curriculum merely as a matter of convenience, rather than because it is the best way to teach the subject.
Anita Cormac, director of the campaign group Focus on Food, agrees. She says many teachers are reluctant to take cookery lessons, because they wrongly assume they require specialist equipment and a large budget.
"It's possible to qualify as a food-technology teacher without very much cooking experience," she said. "So it can be very daunting for new teachers to take a practical class. But a lot can be done in an ordinary classroom."
Focus on Food owns three cookery buses which convert into full-size kitchens. One of these, which tours nationally, will be displayed at the DT show.
"Young people want to learn to eat healthily," Ms Cormac said. "If you can cook for yourself, you can judge the quality of food. And there are very good cooking role models around now. It's cool to cook."
But Anne O'Donnell, food technology teacher at Arnewood school, in Hampshire, fears that the "Jamie Oliver effect" has not gone far enough.
She is concerned that, as existing cookery teachers near retirement, they will not be replaced.
"Traditionally, children learn cooking from their mum in their kitchen,"
she said. "But there's a lot less cooking at home now, so people are relying on schools.
"We're going to become a nation of people who think that cooking is putting a ready-meal in the oven."
At the DT show next week, Mr Whitfield will call for cookery to be taught alongside practical subjects such as sex education, parenting skills and money management. This "life skills" course would be unexamined, but taught by dedicated subject specialists.
"Those who choose it as a career can do exams in catering," he said. "But every child should have basic knowledge of how to work with food, and how to live a healthy life. If we're not giving them that, we've failed them."
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