Little chefs cause a stir

THE Government announced in January its plans to make cookery lessons among children aged 11-14 compulsory. The move came as part of a strategy to tackle obesity with experts predicting that one million children will be obese in a decade. With seven schoo

THE Government announced in January its plans to make cookery lessons among children aged 11-14 compulsory.

The move came as part of a strategy to tackle obesity with experts predicting that one million children will be obese in a decade.

With seven schools in the area teaching 11-14 year olds, The Crow wanted to find out what cookery provision is available for pupils in and around Royston.

Greneway School provides lessons for all their pupils and always have done. It refurbished its cookery room in 2003.

Roysia School also do food technology lessons for all and have full cookery facilities.

School spokesman Elaine Stamford said: "We teach the pupils about the different food groups and encourage them to use fresh fruit and veg rather than tinned food."

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Year 9 pupils at The Meridian School take part in a food technology course.

And at Freman College in Buntingford all children do cookery classes.

Head teacher Helen Loughran said: "Cookery is a real strength at the school and it is a popular choice here."

A teacher at Edwinstree School in Buntingford, said: "We start cookery lessons in Year 5 in small groups of about 15 children.

"We have a state of the art technology suite with access for wheelchairs and encourage healthy eating.

"The pupils learn about multicultural foods, and are asked what their neighbours in other countries cook."

At Melbourn Village College all pupils have cookery lessons and have various hours of lessons depending on what year they are in.

"The pupils have at least 16 hours although some have nearer 28 hours over the year," says cookery teacher Ann Woods.

"Cookery is enthusiastically received here and all the pupils are very interested.

"They have a very inspiring choice of what they cook."

From September 2011 all 11-14-year-olds will be expected to spend at least one hour a week for one term in cookery lessons.

Ofsted has said that pupils were often taught trivial food lessons such as "arranging toppings decoratively on a pizza" but the focus will now be on simple, healthy recipies using fresh fruit and veg and pupils will learn how to cook traditional dishes like shepherds pie, fruit crumbles, Bolognese sauce and curry.

Pupils in The Crow patch already adhere to the new expectations and some seem to enjoy cookery beyond the classroom.

Jan Rowntree runs a cookery club on Wednesday evenings between 4-7pm at Roysia School.

She said: "The cookery club has been running since 1999 and was set up because I felt there was a need for such a club.

"I worked in schools and saw the food some of the children were eating in their lunchboxes.

"I teach them about healthy foods but I don't bang on about it, they make the odd cake otherwise they would get bored and at least we know that plain flour and eggs are going in to it and not all these e-numbers.

"I think it is a good idea to have compulsory cookery lessons but I worry how the schools will find the time.

"Cookery is a life skill that the children can take with them."

One of the main concerns about the new legislation is that many schools will not be able to cope and that poorer students will not be able to afford the ingredients.

However the Government has pledged to spend £2.5 million on providing free ingredients to the most deprived school children and Schools Secretary Ed Balls wants to see 800 cookery teachers trained.

The provision of food technology lessons across the county is encouraging and while some schools in other parts of the country simply do not offer the subject our schools have a very positive attitude.

A spokeswoman for Hertfordshire County Council said: "In Hertfordshire there has been an emphasis on healthy eating for several years now and the majority of our 525 schools have been awarded healthy eating awards and it is also included in other aspects of the curriculum."

It seems, too, that teachers from our local schools are more than happy about the compulsory lessons.

Freman College head teacher Helen Loughran said she was 'in favour' of the lessons and Ann Woods from Melbourn Village College said that this was already the case in the schools she has taught in, but was definitely 'behind the proposals'.

Meanwhile latest figures show that 47 per cent of pupils in Hertfordshire primary schools opted for school meals last month - that's 2,733 meals a day more than in February 2007.

And, there could be a further increase as Hertfordshire Catering, who provide the school meals, launch their new menu selection with meals from £1.65 a day.

It will offer a traditional main meal such as roasts or shepherd's pie, and salmon with chilli sauce and Italian pasta bake.

Vegetarian options will also be available, along with yoghurt, fresh fruit, vegetables and salad.

Hertfordshire County Council leader Robert Gordon said: "The fact that increasing numbers of children are enjoying wholesome school food speaks for itself.

"Schools are encouraging a healthy lifestyle as part of the curriculum and children benefit from eating a healthy meal at lunchtime.

"Parents can see that school lunches really are full of goodness and quality ingredients and I'm sure they will encourage their children to try them to see how good they are.