Glorious food, healthy eating and local pehs

14th October 2005 at 01:00
It has been a week of culinary delights. I have spent a great deal of time in the food and fabric technology department, which typifies, for me, the many changes which Scottish schools have gone through since I started teaching in 1972.

Called the domestic science department then (or maybe when I was a school pupil), quickly followed by home economics, it was populated entirely by women and girls. While the boys were sent to techy to learn the rudiments of hewing wood and other such skills, the girls learned cooking of a very domestic nature and a lot about washing and cleaning.

I even remember a "flat" in one of my schools, from where the whines of hoovers and washing machines punctuated my attempts at geography lessons in the classroom directly below.

I think boys began to appear in home ec sometime in the 1980s, during the great equality of opportunity movement, and the girls at last got their hands on hammers and chisels.

What I witnessed this week was completely different.

Being a headie does carry the occasional privilege and I was invited to join a panel to judge the school heat in a cookery competition. The panel comprised two highly acclaimed local chefs, two representatives from our catering services, our school board chair, myself and our principal teacher for food technology.

Our school board chair quietly confessed to me that, although he loved his grub, he couldn't boil an egg and, while I fancy myself as a bit of a cook, I soon realised that I was way out of my depth among these very confident, skilled and creative young chefs.

Clutching clipboards, we stuck closely to the professionals and wandered around the busy kitchen umming and aahing and jotting down notes in what we hoped gave the impression that we knew what we were doing.

The best bit was the tasting, although I could have quite happily scoffed the lot. These dishes could easily have graced tables at the finest restaurants in Argyll.

What a long way the subject has come from those early days. They not only still do the basics but offer a wide range of courses to a wide clientele.

I found myself back in the department the following day, to see a new healthy eating course for all S4s, designed as an insert in personal and social education. The PSE teacher (or tutor, as they are know at Oban High) goes with them and takes part in the lessons.

I wasn't the only person to visit the class that day; quite a number of staff did, as I later found out, not so much to see the lesson as to witness the tutor, in this case a (male) maths teacher resplendent in a pinny.

The course is part of our drive to be a health-promoting school and we have had great co-operation from our catering staff, who have transformed the menus in the dining room. Contrary to our fears of an exodus to the supermarkets and garages within minutes of the school, our numbers are well up.

We have always tried to keep our pupils in school at lunchtime by putting on lots of clubs and activities, and our first year club (in a mobile classroom saved from demolition during our building programme) has had a recent "make-over" by our jannies. The wee ones now have their own eatery, pool tables, play stations and a little cinema called The Gap. This takes some of the pressure off the dining room and keeps the first years amused during wet lunchtimes.

It has not always been plain sailing, though, and at the end of the week I had a deputation of senior boys wanting their Scotch pies back on the menu.

They have to leave home early in the morning and by break are ravenous and want something substantial in their tums. I may have to rethink the pies.

This was not to be the last on pies for me. On Friday evening I listened to the final of BBC Radio Scotland's Scots dialect quiz Your Word Against Mine. We had been invited to put a team together for this and to our astonishment got through to the final (mostly due to having two English teachers on my team).

Part of this was to compose a song along the lines of Burns's "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose". While ours was a hilarious wee ditty about a heelan'

coo, we were well and truly outclassed by our opponents from Clootie City, who chose as their passion the Dundee "peh".

Our defeat in that final was inevitable as Sheena Wellington and her team sang out the final chorus "an' an ingin ane an' aw".

I wonder if "ingin pehs" qualify as healthy eating?

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban HighIf you have any comments, email

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