In early 2020, the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), in partnership with the Food Teachers Centre (FTC), surveyed secondary school food teachers in England to ascertain whether there had been any impact on schools and students due to the removal of the option to offer and study A-levels in ‘food’, i.e. A-level in Food technology or Home Economics. In total, 819 responses were received (462 from those that had taught A-level and 357 that had not taught A-level).
Due to the pandemic, and social restrictions and multiple lockdowns, the results were not published – until now.
We’re delighted to make the results of the survey available, so that it can inform the debate around food and nutrition education in secondary schools and how the removal of the A-level option appears to be having an impact on GCSE and Key Stage 3 provision. We support the reintroduction of a robust, modern ‘food’ A-level, not only to provide progression from GCSE, but to also support the career aspirations and opportunities in food across the UK.
Roy Ballam, Managing Director and Head of Education, British Nutrition Foundation www.nutrition.org.uk
Louise Davies, Founder, The Food Teachers Centre www.foodteacherscentre.co.uk
In 2016, the decision was taken by the Department for Education that A-levels in Food technology and Home Economics would not continue in England (with last teaching in 2018). This was based on an announcement of a consultation in July 2015, which stated that AS and A level food technology would not be developed as a separate qualification, as it has been part of the Design & Technology suite and did not fit, due to their being a number of vocational qualifications available post-16 in food-related subjects (including confectionary/butchery) and that top universities offering food science/nutrition related courses had told DfE that they were looking for students with science qualifications for entry to their courses, rather than food-related A levels. 16 July 2015 – GCSE and A level subject content consultation
On 7 October 2015 (updated on 15 December 2015), Ofqual published GCSE, AS and A level subjects that are being reformed, which stated that AS and A-level Home economics: food, nutrition and health would not be reformed as it was not proposed by exam boards.
The response to the original consultation (July 2015) was published in January 2016, which confirmed that A-level ‘food’ would not be reformed. It was stated that 31 responses to the consultation were received around ‘food’, which commented that whilst there is a need for a ‘food’ A level, ‘food’ did not fit comfortably within design and technology suite of qualifications. The response repeated the view of the consultation document that: there were already a number of high-quality vocational qualifications available post-16 in food-related subjects; there are applied general qualifications that have a focus on food nutrition and food science, which have been endorsed by universities and have associated UCAS points; a high proportion of universities offering food science and nutrition related courses are looking for students with science qualifications for entry to their courses, and whilst some do view food technology as an acceptable entrance qualification, many either do not accept it or do not require it; and that there are low numbers currently taking the subject. Reformed GCSE, AS and A level subject content – Government consultation response
Executive summary of the findings
- There is less food teaching in our schools: Overall, the results suggest that the removal of A-levels in ‘food’ has led to the reduction of food and nutrition education at Key Stage 3 at 1 in 4 schools and in 15% schools at Key Stage 4 (GCSE). A majority of respondents also stated that GCSE numbers had declined.
- There is less funding for teaching about ‘food’ at 1 in 4 schools: While the majority reported that funding at Key Stage 3 and 4 had remained the same, 1 in 4 indicated that funding had reduced.
- The status of the subject (food) is in decline: With the removal of A-level, respondents reported that the status of the subject had declined.
- Staffing remains an issue, in terms of capacity and subject specific knowledge and skills.
- There is no clear route of progression from GCSE for those students with an interest or passion in ‘food’. 71% respondents disagreed/strongly disagreed that routes of progression had remained the same, and 17% agreed/strongly agreed that routes of progression had remained the same. For those that had taught A-level, 78% disagreed/strongly disagreed that routes of progression had remained the same.
- There is student interest in A-level ‘food’. For the years 2018 and 2019 teachers stated that in total 6,216 students had expressed an interest in taking an A-level in ‘food’.
- Former A-level students have careers in a wide range of ‘food’ careers. Just over half the respondents that participated indicated that they had links with former students that had undertaken an A-level in food. From the analysis of 197 written responses, 122 students have carers in the food industry, 113 in health professions, 57 in teaching, 43 in hospitality and catering, and 18 in other related professions.
- A majority (98%) of respondents indicated that they believed that an A-level in ‘food’ should be reintroduced.
Based on the survey results, it is recommended that the following be undertaken:
- Hold a formal review to explore the potential interest and demand for the reintroduction of a ‘food’ A-level, taking into account changes that have happened in GCSE qualifications, introduction of T-levels, review of vocational qualifications, teacher workforce numbers, student interest and demand, university and employer need, and awarding organisation interest. If sufficient interest, a working group to develop draft subject content for consultation should be established.
- Ensure that all schools (including academies and free schools) offer a minimum level of food and nutrition education at Key Stage 3 (based on the recommendations made from the Food Education Learning Landscape research, 2017), and offer routes of progression at Key Stages 4 and 5 where there is need/demand.
- Review the number of secondary school ‘food’ subject specific teachers entering the workforce to ascertain whether there is suitable succession planning to ensure the continuation of high-quality food and nutrition education in schools. In addition, ensure that trainee, newly qualified and current ‘food’ teachers have the subject specific skills and knowledge (as set out in Food teaching in secondary schools: knowledge and skills, PHE 2015).
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