Mastering the market place

7th July 2006 at 01:00
A day-long challenge highlights the issues involved in getting products from the farm or factory on to supermarket shelves. Carolyn O'Grady reports

Rishi, aged 14, is on a roll. He has made an alliance with Matthew (13) to sell his traditional Channel Island strawberries with Matthew's fresh Cornish eggs to producers of strawberry ice-cream. "It's best to sell together. We can combine skills and make a good PowerPoint presentation to the buyers," he says.

It looks as though the deal's in the bag, especially as he's also aware that the buyers are intent on British products, and don't seem concerned that products use "the latest chemical technology".

Then suddenly there's a news flash: bad weather has destroyed the entire British strawberry crop. Rishi's face falls. His competitor, however, is over the moon: his strawberries come from Spain.

Rishi is taking part in a day-long key stage 34 enterprise challenge at St Olave's, an all-boys Church of England Grammar School in Orpington. The event covers enterprise education, work-related learning, PSHE, citizenship and food technology. It calls on pupils to follow the food chain from farm or factory to supermarket, and to get to grips with the processes involved in the development of a new product.

Materials for the challenge are produced by Waitrose and are available free to all secondary schools. The products can be chicken tikka masala, fish cakes, pizza or strawberry ice cream, and the St Olave's boys have chosen strawberry ice cream.

Working in teams and sometimes as individuals, students are given roles and have to research issues - including food miles, environmental concerns, healthy food choices and production costs - and negotiate with each other.

At the end of the day's work they present their product.

The session is run by teacher Mark Neighbour, who has used the package extensively at one of the project's pilot schools. At the end of the day, he hopes the boys will understand where food comes from, how and why ingredients are chosen, what packaging and advertising tells us, how our health can be protected, and what we pay for.

Each group is split into four and each team given a task or role description and timetable. There are suppliers, who work initially as individual sellers of raw ingredients such as milk, eggs and strawberries; buyers, who have to make a great product using seven given ingredients; technologists, who make sure the food is safe, properly packaged and correctly labelled; and marketing staff, who promote the product.

All the boys have access to a computer. They choose their team leaders and work out what kind of product they want.

Initially, they go for British, because they want to be patriotic and are concerned about the distance food travels from its source to the supermarket. They also want the food to be organic, for health reasons and "because it can be sold more expensively".

They will have to make radical compromises, however. They begin negotiations with the sellers. Then wildcards come in the form of news flashes read out by the teacher and are used to make the simulation more realistic. They include "transport costs rise steeply" and "salmonella scare affects ice cream industry".

In the final session, the boys design a logo, the packaging, decide on the labelling, and design and make a video and leaflets. They also put together a PowerPoint presentation to be made to the headteacher and other guests, who, acting as supermarket representatives, will decide whether to give Saucy Strawberry Ice-cream a place on the stores' shelves.

"The students were very engaged. It's pitched at exactly the right level and brings in ICT skills, maths, design and technology, business studies and more," says St Olave's teacher Joel Fayers.

The boys worked well in their teams. "It's good to have an emphasis on deadlines at this stage, when working under pressure is important," he says.

"We'll use it in Enterprise Week as an introduction to enterprise education at KS4", says James Stenning, head of careers and enterprise at the school.

* The Food for Thought free package contains all the materials teachers need (except those needed to make models of the packaging) and a PowerPoint introduction for teachers and pupils. It is produced by Waitrose with Farming and Countryside Education www.waitrose.comaboutchildren_education

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