The future of food education and healthy eating in schools is threatened by a crisis in teacher recruitment and lack of in-service training, subject specialists have warned.
The biggest single problem is the lack of graduates training as teachers, said Margaret Jepson, head of technology at Liverpool John Moores University. "There's a shortfall in recruitment partly because teaching has been seen as a second-class career, partly because there are so many career options in the food industry and big supermarket chains as nutritionists in product development."
Liverpool John Moores is one of the few universities that has filled its quota of places on the post-graduate and BA courses for teachers. It has 20 trainee food technology teachers on each course. Where the university once recruited home economists directly to teaching from the BEd degree, these students are now doing the BA but then not converting to a PGCE, preferring careers in the private sector.
Other colleges have been hit even harder as falling recruitment has lead to home economics departments being shut. It is a vicious circle, said Margaret Jepson. The lack of provision means potential subject specialists seek other jobs.
South Bank University, Leeds Metropolitan and Sheffield Hallam have closed their food and textiles specialisms as part of design and technology. "They are among the most expensive courses to run in terms of specialist provision. If there are cuts, these departments are the first to go," said Margaret Jepson.
The flight of potential recruits and trained teachers to industry is aggravated by the failure of the national curriculum to give it an adequate profile. Marion Rutland, senior lecturer in design and technology at Roehampton Institute, said it was particularly acute at primary level.
"Food technology does not play a big enough part in the curriculum because teachers have no experience. Design and technology is an entirely new subject area."
The subject is also fragmented. Food preparation, once taught as home economics, now comes under design and technology. Two of the most important health issues - nutrition and energy - are taught as part of science.
Food is often taught as part of a cross-curricular project - food week, for example. Primary subject specialists say that after covering the subject in one big hit, it is usually then brushed aside.
Where food preparation is covered, it tends to concentrate on easily managed activities such as mixing and chopping. Even this can raise difficulties. "Where once everyone would be happily dipping in, schools now realise they've got a potential health and safety problem," said Margaret Jepson.
Teacher training does not allocate enough time to cover all aspects of food technology even though design and technology is one of the new foundation subjects. Marion Rutland said: "Our PGCE primary students take one year to cover all areas of the syllabus. The time we get with them is insufficient.
"I'd like to see more teacher training done around the issues of healthy eating since schools are having to conform to nutrition standards."