It's all in the preparation
Changes to the curriculum often overlook the vital issue of resources for teachers. When GCSE food technology was introduced in 1995, some teachers with no food technology or industrial experience were required to teach this demanding subject for more than a year without adequate textbooks or resources.
With the reincarnation ofA-level food technology, it is important that the mistake is not repeated. The British Nutrition Foundation recently established a working party of interested individuals and organisations (including the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, OFSTED, and representatives from higher education, industry and teachers) to produce a discussion document on the subject. Our remit was to indicate what might be included in the course, and at what depth, to ensure progression from GCSE.
We concluded that good quality resources and training facilities should be in place as early as possible, and we should find ways for organisations to collaborate in order to avoid duplication and minimise costs. The aim was to develop resources that could be used regardless of the syllabus being studied.
The introduction of GCSE food technology led to close links between publishers and exam boards as publishers tailored textbooks for specific syllabuses. The exam board was seen to be supporting teachers and pupils, and publishers had a ready-made market.
But is the trend towards syllabus specific books in the best interest of pupils? There are clear benefits: only one book is needed; the teacher is guided through the course, and has the reassurance of knowing that the syllabus has been covered; and specimen questions are provided, establishing good exam practice.
However, they give a narrow definition of their subject, promoting knowledge only in specific contexts. For example, in the case of technology, students may be familiar with an industrial practice such as forming, but only know how it applies to one or two products, rather than understanding the basic principle of its use.
Generic textbooks, on the other hand, give pupils a broad overview of the subject; they can be used flexibly by the teacher, possibly in other subject areas. The textbook may be written to cover exam requirements, but it is up to the teacher to ensure that the syllabus is covered.
The availability of resources will be one of the most important factors for a school in deciding whether to offer anA-level in food technology. The ideal outcome of the BNF working party is that candidates will study a course using good resources, produced collaboratively to ensure breadth and rigour of understanding, and that this will encourage all pupils to fulfil their potential.
Roy Ballam is education officer for the British Nutrition Foundation. The findings of the BNF A-level working group can be accessed on: www.nutrition.org.uk