Champion for class cooking

28th May 2004 at 01:00
Joyce Lancashire's first inkling that she was even a candidate for the Baxter's award for outstanding contributions to home economics came when she was announced as the winner at this month's subject conference in Dundee.

The principal teacher, who was delighted to receive a silver cup, certificate and hamper of Baxter's goodies, was secretly nominated by colleagues at Lasswade High in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, for being a dedicated teacher and excellent manager who cares for her staff and puts her pupils and subject first, "often before her own needs".

With 30 years of teaching experience, Ms Lancashire remains enthusiastic about running a home economics department.

"Midlothian has not adopted the faculty system, which I think will cause all sorts of problems when teachers no longer have a subject specialist as line manager," she says.

All her headteachers, she adds, have been very supportive of home economics, which has not always been the experience of colleagues elsewhere. "It can be treated as a second class subject, which will not help the Scottish Executive in its aim of making every school a health promoting school."

Home economics has altered out of all recognition over the past 10 years, she says, with much more use of technology now and a greater appeal to boys and more academic-minded pupils.

"The big problem is that we have a terrible shortage of home economics teachers. It's all very well teaching the basic theory of dietary guidelines: you don't need a specialist to do that. But when it comes to teaching the practical side of preparing and cooking food - the sort of thing my generation learnt from their mums and grannies - you can't do it without a home economics teacher."

An example of their valuable contribution to lessons for life is Ms Lancashire's non-certificate class "Can't Cook, Won't Cook and Going to Have to Cook", which is aimed at S6 girls and boys.

"We look at cheap and cheerful recipes, such as fajitas and pasta, that meet dietary targets. At the end of the year we get them to produce a restaurant-quality meal and serve it to 40 people. They get a buzz out of doing that."

Ms Lancashire's achievements in developing the curriculum at Lasswade High and work with the Scottish Qualifications Authority on materials for Standard grade and assessment made a vital contribution to her winning the Baxter's award. The judges also applauded her links to external agencies and extra-curricular activities. These include collaboration with Jewel and Esk Valley College in Edinburgh to provide professional development for teachers and better access for students to resources and expertise in hospitality, "where there is nowadays a lot of career opportunities."

A longstanding project between Lasswade High and NHS Lothian helps adults in the community learn to cook and look after themselves, boosting their confidence.

Ms Lancashire has also been closely associated with the Phab (physically handicapped, able-bodied) Club since she first came to Lasswade High.

"Together with former pupil volunteers, we help a group of adults with a wide range of physical disabilities to achieve something every week, both in cookery and in a separate class in computing," she explains.

"It is enjoyable and very rewarding for the teacher, the volunteers and the students, who are getting something they wouldn't normally experience. It is very much a social thing. There is a lot of banter and chat, a lot of laughs, and it takes a very different set of teaching skills from those needed for youngsters during the day."

For the future, Ms Lancashire sees technology continuing to contribute to the growing appeal of home economics to young people, boys in particular.

Most important is teaching how to prepare nutritious food. "The Scottish Executive believes this is vital," she says, "but without a lot more home economics teachers I don't see how it will happen."

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