This is a recipe for real success
The pupils at Bonhill Primary don't just eat school meals. They make them.
"West Dunbartonshire is one of the most deprived authorities in the country," says headteacher Maria Seery. "So we're aiming to improve our children's health and well-being and their employability at the same time."
A new school with a modern kitchen gave Mrs Seery and Sharon Lockhart - a recent School Cook of the Year finalist - the idea of using their gleaming facilities to educate the children as well as feed them.
"They love it," says Mrs Lockhart. "About 70 per cent of our children take school meals, which is high, partly because of all the work we do with them."
Besides five weeks of work experience in the kitchen for every Primary 7 pupil, the dinner ladies also welcome classes from across the school for educational sessions, says Mrs Seery. "We've had them in making gingerbread men, lava lamps to illustrate density, Roman shields and film- star biscuits. Our kitchen is an integral part of the learning for the whole school."
There is a breakfast club with a rotation of pupil helpers, a grandparents' lunch and a Friday cookery club. But the most intensive kitchen experience is reserved for Primary 7 pupils, every one of whom, starting last session, gets to work in the kitchen one morning a week for five weeks. Today it's the turn of Alexis, Fraser, Kristopher and Shannon.
This is their third week in the kitchen, they say. "We made chicken fajitas the first week and I found out an interesting fact," says Shannon. "You put cocoa in them. It's meant to bring out the flavour - it works."
Then last week they made biscuits. "We put margarine and flour in a big mixing machine," says Kristopher. "We rolled the dough, then cut it into circles and put 12 little dots in them, so the cooking could get inside."
What makes all this fun, they say, is that Mrs Lockhart and her colleagues don't just demonstrate and explain. They take the time to teach them how to do it themselves.
It's more work experience than lessons, and the smart chef uniforms the pupils wear - bought with the prize the initiative won at West Dunbartonshire's annual celebration of good practice - make them feel like real kitchen staff.
"It's nice to discover new things and get to do them as part of a team," says Fraser. "I want to be a musician when I leave school, but I really enjoy this work experience in the kitchen."
After the team have washed their hands thoroughly at the sink, Mrs Lockhart tells them they're making sponges today. Then she leads the way to the dry store, with its stacked shelves of flour and sugar and a selection of precision scales on the clean worktop.
"Baking is more of a science than cooking," she tells them. "If you're making a pie, you can add a bit of this and a bit of that and it usually turns out all right. But the secret to bakery is measuring the ingredients exactly."
After setting the big mixing machine to work on the margarine and sugar, the youngsters take it in turns to weigh out the flour, milk, baking powder and liquid egg. A fair bit of maths and science is involved, as they discuss why the same volume of different ingredients have different weights, and figure out how much liquid egg gives 12 eggs when one kilogram contains 20.
Work experience in the school kitchen is helping every Bonhill Primary 7 pupil with literacy, numeracy, cooking, hygiene, science, working in a team and healthy eating and lifestyles, says Mrs Seery.
"We are developing their social skills and their confidence. They are gaining transferable skills and seeing how school learning can be used in the workplace."
The risks of working in the kitchen were carefully assessed at the start of the project and a few adaptations - such as cordoning off the hot fryer - were made to ensure the children's safety, explains Mrs Seery. "They know how to behave and they take it very seriously."
Serious learning in a "meaningful, fun and novel environment" is the aim, she says. So when the sponge-mix has been spooned into cake tins and slid into the oven, Mrs Lockhart allows her young workers to clean the metal mixing-bowl the old-fashioned way.
"This is lovely," says Alexis, licking the sweet dough from her fingers. "I do a bit in the kitchen at home with my mum. I like learning about the ingredients that go into stuff, like cocoa in the fajitas. I want to be an architect when I grow up, but I really enjoy working in the school kitchen."
EAT UP: BONHILL PRIMARY'S SPONGE RECIPE
To get a light, fluffy, subtly sweet sponge that melts in the mouth and makes you want more.
1 lb butter
1 lb caster sugar
600g liquid egg
2 lbs plain flour
2 oz baking powder
100 ml milk
Preheat the oven to 180 degsC. Grease and line two large cake tins with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is pale and consistency even. Beat in the eggs. Fold in the flour, baking powder and milk to create a soft dropping batter. Divide between the cake tins and spread out with a spatula. Bake for 20-30 mins until golden brown.