Food technology teachers have expressed fear about the future of the subject in schools, as high inflation means it could become “too expensive to teach”.
Subjects leads have told Tes that some ingredients have doubled in price, stretching already tight school budgets.
The way that schools manage the cost of ingredients for food-based subjects varies, with some providing the goods for the students and others asking learners to bring them in.
Some schools fall somewhere in between these two options; for example, by providing goods but asking for a voluntary contribution to cover the costs.
Teachers have said that when setting budgets for the next school year, they have had to tell headteachers that there will be a significant extra cost when buying items, and that they are worried about how sustainable this is.
Louise Davies, founder of the Food Teachers Centre, said there is a fear that practical food lessons could be cut from schools at a time when they are “very much needed”.
Food tech lessons threatened by cost-of-living crisis
The national curriculum in England states that students “should be taught how to cook and apply the principles of nutrition and healthy eating” at key stage 3, though academies have the flexibility not to follow this, and there is no rule about continuing to offer the subject at GCSE level.
Ms Davies said: “There is concern that with all the budgetary pressures going on, things like practical lessons could be cut – food lessons, at a time when it is very much needed”.
She added that the centre was pushing for government to “ring-fence” funding for ingredients for food-based subjects.
Other subject leads have expressed similar concerns.
Adele James, head of catering and technology at Whitefield School in North London, said she feared some academies could start to remove the subject from the curriculum if high costs persisted.
“The more expensive ingredients become, the more chance academies will just take the subject off the curriculum, as they will see it as too expensive to teach,” she said.
Ms James said that her school bought ingredients and asked students’ parents for a voluntary contribution of £20 per year at KS3 and £30 per year at KS4, but that it was “getting harder to have the funds to buy the ingredients needed” for lessons.
She said the school did not want to increase the amount it asked parents for, and that the government needed to fully fund ingredients for lessons.
Jennifer Bruce, curriculum leader for food technology at a school in the North East of England, said her school currently provided all ingredients for students in her classes.
She said that she had briefed her headteacher that there would be a “significant” increase in costs next year and that she was worried about how the school would afford to cover the costs in the future as it only had a “finite” budget.
“Against that backdrop, I think we could have to reduce practical lessons, but then the question is, if we keep reducing them, are we really a practical subject?” she said.
And she added that the government should directly fund ingredient costs to help schools deliver the lessons.
Other teachers explained to Tes that they were having to get creative to cut costs for their students and their schools.
Sarah Badzire, head of food studies at a special school in the North West of England, said she was adjusting some recipes that she taught – for example, swapping meat for a recipe with a mix of meat and lentils – so that students from less affluent financial backgrounds could replicate them at home.
Another subject lead for food at a secondary school in the East of England said that she was now more “mindful of the cost of meat in recipes”, as students at her school generally paid for ingredients themselves unless they were from low-income backgrounds.
She said the school was also cutting down on the quantities of ingredients in each recipe to reduce costs.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that schools did their “very best” to maintain a full curriculum and “obviously recognise the importance of food technology”.
He said he was sure school leaders would do their very best to maintain this provision.
But he added: “Leaders often have to make difficult decisions about the courses they run and courses with higher costs and relatively small numbers are always going to be the most difficult to sustain. The root cause of the problem is years of government underfunding of the education system coupled with huge inflationary pressures.”
The Department for Education has previously told Tes that in 2022-23 core schools funding will increase by £4 billion compared with 2021-22 – giving a 5 per cent real-terms per-pupil boost – and this will help schools to meet wider cost pressures.
As part of its Levelling Up White Paper, the government also announced it would invest up to £5 million in a school cooking “revolution”. The money included funding for the development of new curriculum content and bursaries for teacher training.
The concerns about food technology come amid fresh pressure on school budgets from the 2022-23 teacher pay award. The government announced yesterday that experienced teachers would be entitled to a pay rise of 5 per cent – higher than it had originally planned.
Sector leaders have warned that, without extra funding, this will lead to more pressure on school budgets.