Christmas was always a particularly busy time for the cake-makers in my family, often baking a variety of sweet treats for friends and visitors. My grandfather was a baker, my grandmother a cake-maker, so cooking has been in my family for generations. I was five when I first helped in the kitchen, and this early exposure to cooking undoubtedly influenced my choices in future life; both my older sister and I became cookery teachers.
Over the summer, we installed a brand-new kitchen facility at Kings Monkton School, and are introducing food technology and cookery classes for pupils across year groups, with all pupils between the ages of five and 18 gaining experience in the kitchen. It’s been fantastic to see how excited our younger pupils are when working with food, a new experience for many of them. We’re also looking to offer our sixth formers basic cookery skill lessons before they head to university next year.
However, the taste is somewhat bittersweet. It can feel at times as if young people across the UK are stuck in the midst of a food fight that’s spiralling out of control.
On one side, misconceptions around the meaning of ‘healthy eating’ have contributed to a social media obsession with #cleaneating, which has drawn heavy criticism from nutritionists. On the other side, we’re seeing a disturbing rise in the levels of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in young people, with the allure of junk food tightening its grip.
As an independent school, we’re able to keep our curriculum flexible and introduce invigorating topics which can push the boundaries of education. Kings Monkton considers pastoral care as one of its most important responsibilities; we felt moved to tackle this food fight head on and take the lead in helping teach the next generation about food from an early age.
My cookery classes have always been fun, inspiring, but they now have an essential role in educating young people around healthy eating, how to source and cook their own food, and the long-term benefits of a balanced diet.
‘It’s fantastic to see the variety of projects our pupils are involved in, and the school’s dedication to enhancing their development beyond the classroom.’
When I arrived at Kings Monkton over the summer, Principal Paul Norton and the team discussed how we could work to increase our pupils’ experiences with cooking and the kitchen. The school will be investing in the renovation and improvement of learning facilities such as science laboratories and libraries, and prioritised its focus on the development of a professional-level kitchen, which will play host to food technology lessons, cookery classes, and extra-curricular activities for generations to come.
The pupils have really taken to it. We started with some introductory level lessons for our Key Stage 3 pupils, many of whom will be starting their GCSEs this year and next. A future ambition of the school is to incorporate an official food tech GCSE into the curriculum; we’ve already seen excitement and intrigue around the topic with this age group.
A few weeks later, we opened the kitchen for Key Stage 2. The pupils had very limited experience with cooking at that point, and our focus was to give them a feel for the kitchen, basic utensils, health and safety procedures, and food hygiene. We’ve also covered topics such as agriculture – how our food travels from farm to fridge – and the versatility of staple ingredients such as eggs, tinned foods and preserves.
One of our special educational needs students has already shown significant improvements in confidence in social skills since getting involved in the kitchen. He was previously quite reserved in the classroom, and would find socialising with other pupils a challenge. The cookery classes have really inspired him; he’s now one of the first pupils to raise his hand and answer questions, and other teachers have also commented on his newfound motivation in their classes.
The cookery classes form one part of Kings Monkton’s commitment to the Healthy Schools Scheme, which will see the school work towards achieving national recognition for its multi-faceted approach to encouraging healthy lifestyles for our pupils. I’ve only been part of the team for a few months, but the school’s progressive thinking and innovative approach to education is clear to see.
Kings Monkton’s new kitchen facility and food education initiative are just a handful of the ingredients in its recipe book for success. It’s fantastic to see the variety of projects our pupils are involved in, and the school’s dedication to enhancing their development beyond the classroom.