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Delegated Food Education

 Delegated Food Education

A paper presented at the Fifth Home Economics Research Conference at the University of Cardiff, 15/16 Sept 1983.

Alan Harrison
Head of Faculty of Community Studies
Canterbury College, UK



The "present generation" refers to young school pupils of 1983 and those within it are parents now. A subsequent task is to establish what improvement has been made in relation to the assertions presented then.

In the meantime, let the paper speak for 1983. Some, at least, of the situations described continue and it will be a matter of determining to what extent.

With seeming parochialism in terms of Scotland, let it be said that findings in that quarter relate to the rest of Britain.



The obvious imputation of the word ‘delegated’ in the intentionally pejorative title is that the buck for good education is being passed. Many feel secure in the assumption that such education is being carried out by others and for too long the standard of the nation’s diet has suffered from being everybody’s concern but nobody’s responsibility.

If the country lacks nutritional leadership it is hardly surprising that the British adopt such attitudes as have been identified. The lack of a national nutrition policy has been exposed by several writers (Burman, 1981:33; Collins, 1980:610; Centre for Agricultural Strategy; 19799:4; James, 1980:597; Robbins, 1981:55; Wright, 1981:2; and Yellowlees, 1981:4).

From such a collective assertion it might follow that the responsibility for nutrition education has been delegated to a rather limited number of under-resourced agencies such as the Health Education Council (HEC), the Scottish Health Education Group (SHEG) and anyone else with interest in the topic.

Whether concerns such as HEC and SHEG are doing a good job does not lessen parental responsibility for the nutritional education of their children although it may be better to refer it on a wider basis and term it food education where the aim is to ensure that children make wise food choices.

The main assertion here is that parents delegate food education along with their children’s general education and the load is carried by the school. The present generation of parents can hardly be accused of sidestepping their responsibility to give their children sound good education as there was little or no emphasis upon it in earlier health education programmes.

Although there has been an increase in the public awareness of the relationship between diet and health, there is as yet insufficient attention being paid to their own role in this perhaps more discrete educative process. It is therefore time to break into this cycle of delegation and foster the objective that subsequent generations of parents will be fully aware of the part they play in improving the health of their present and future families.

Experts within the field of nutrition education and others interested in it such as conference delegates hardly need to be reminded of the fact that “there is so much confusion in the public mind (because) ….. we do not receive a sound basic education about food in our early school years” (Turner 1979:5) and there have been various supporting studies (Brown et al 1963; British Market Research Bureau, 1969; Centre for Agricultural Strategy 1979; Wright, 1981).

There is little dispute amongst nutritionists and those within health education that the British diet is in need of improvement and while there are various themes such as ‘high fibre’ and ‘low cholesterol’ from time to time, the statistics relating to illness and death from incorrect eating do not seem to alter.

The acceptance of the fact that there has been an increase in the amount of nutrition education over the years ignores the notion of the quality of that education.

The present generation of parents seems content to delegate the task of providing its offspring with a sound dietary education to the school. If that assumption holds and little is being done to change parental attitudes in that respect, it is all the more important that food education in the school is effective and that it addresses the challenge of ensuring that the next generation of parents looks after the food education of its children.

It has already been pointed out by the present writer (Harrison, 1983: 2-5) that those involved in producing that school meal have virtually been ignored by others in the same school who teach nutrition and in the context of the debate here some aspects of food education could have been effectively delegated to them.

This draws attention to the assertion that food education in the school is probably not effective and is further mitigated by the commercialism of the tuck shop. The DES report (1975:19 para 37) expressed concern about “… the part played …. in making between-meal snacks available to reduce pupils’ appetites”.

If food education within the school has by common consent been delegated to the Home Economics Department, attention should be drawn to two important considerations. The Home Economics teacher may not have access to those pupils of higher intelligence as they may have been streamed towards the academic subjects.

If the distribution of obese academics is anything to go by, we cannot presume that potential university entrants do not need food education!

More important than this, however, and due to the size of the food education enterprise, is the notion that it should be as effective as possible.

While there is plenty of good work going on in many Home Economics classrooms, its effectiveness is lessened by competing interests (the previously mentioned tuck shop for one) and lack of interest (the notion of delegation for one, and the absence of linking food education with other subjects (c f Daniels, 1981, p.19) for another).

The Schools Council Health Education Project (SCHEP) 13-18 advises the formation of a team of interested teachers and it is appropriate here to suggest that there should be a sub-group of those interested in and involved with food education both within the schools and local community.

In this way ‘delegated food education’ can be seen as being a worthwhile activity which attracts resource support. The involvement of Home Economics teachers stems from the leadership of the sub-group which I suggest should be provided by the senior teacher. Others in the sub-group might be:

The head teacher (Chairperson)
Home Economics Adviser
A senior officer in Educational Catering and/or the school meals Supervisor
Head of Department of Science
Head of Department of Physical Education
A teacher-representative of other interested department (s)
A representative of a professional organisation within the Hotel and Catering Industry

The senior Home Economics teacher will assume the responsibility for the co-ordination of the food education curriculum across the school. She is the best person to be the leader of the sub-group of the health education team and as such will need to attend to the following areas:

a) The objectives of food education within the school.

b) The teaching approaches and materials to be used: are the materials in use up-to-date, scientifically correct, educationally sound and free from commercial bias? Are new materials properly evaluated and integrated into the teaching material stock?

c) The teaching budget and how it is apportioned.

d) The in-service training of teachers: the provision of appropriate journals etc.

e) Are teachers taught the techniques of diagnosing class needs?

f) Are teachers taught how to measure progress made in terms of any objectives which have been defined?

g) Does the teaching reflect food education as a means to a healthful life and do the teachers practise their own preaching? Does it adequately demonstrate the links between sound diet and good health?

h) Is the operational responsibility for good education firmly in the hands of the Home Economics teacher?

i) Is there an overall teaching plan which develops the critical-thinking abilities of the pupil as he matures? Is it geared to sound decision- making in terms of his own food choice? Is it sufficiently varied and adaptable to the separate abilities of specific groups and of individuals within the groups?

j) Is the full range of expertise utilised in the Home Economics Department, in the rest of the school and in the local community?

It follows from the responsibilities and areas of attention identified for the senior Home Economics teacher that many of these are translated into operational terms for the classroom teacher. Thus, her responsibilities can be summarised as:

a) To fulfil the objectives identified for the food curriculum and contribute to their revision

b) To use the range of materials to the best extent within the available finance

c) To keep up to date by reading and attending in-service courses

d) To regularly appraise the needs of individuals and groups of pupils

e) To regularly appraise the progress made by individuals and by groups in terms of the objectives defined

f) To demonstrate that sound dietary practice leads to a healthy life

g) To demonstrate that food education is the operational concern of the Home Economics teacher

h) To implement the overall teaching plan and ensure that the pupil’s powers of critical thinking are fully developed in accordance with his maturity and intellect

i) To use the best extent the resources of other teachers in the department, school and in the local community

While mention has been made of objectives there is very little which has been written in relation to food education.

Aims and objectives are elusive within the food curriculum. However, there are a few positive statements that can be recorded. Brown (personal communication) has provided a set of Aims for the Highland Region of Scotland, Home Economics Common Course in Food followed by teachers and first and second year secondary pupils.


1. To educate for life. This is our main aim. The Home Economics Syllabus for the first two years of Secondary Education is a complete basic course touching on many important aspects of HEALTHY LIVING.

2. To impress on pupils the need for a good understanding of Nutrition.

3. To encourage pupils to become discerning consumers.

4. To develop manipulative skills and to encourage the selection of the correct tool for the job.

5. To educate the palate.

6. To increase the appreciation of attractively produced and served meals.

7. To make aware of the need for work study and for good planning in kitchen design.

“Food education for life” is a worthwhile objective but it does not seem to be a widely held one. Some of the information in the present paper stems from a survey conducted in 1982 when Home Economics teacher in schools and others involved in the post-compulsory education sector were asked several questions.

There was little to suggest that those within adult education are doing much to rectify any shortfall in the school food curriculum.

One contribution to determining that occurs in Adult Education comes from Grieg (personal communication) who is the Home Economics Adviser, Banff/Buchan Division of Grampian Regional Council.

“Adult Education in Food Studies for vocational purposes is handled by our Further Education Colleges. Non-vocational courses in various aspects of cookery are organised by the local schools and Community centres to meet the wishes of local groups. While these may include a ‘weight watchers’ group they do not as a rule deal with nutritional aspects of cooking in a structured way”.

There are formal courses available to adults who want to know more about food and diet in the particular sense or in a more general way a la ‘surviving’ but they may be few and far between. Hatfield (personal communication) has detailed part of the provision in the Borough of Trafford.

“In the adult education sector the following courses are mounted:

City and Guilds 2 year P.T. courses in ‘Food Studies’ (part 1 and 2)

National Council for Home Economics Education Certificate Course in ‘Home Management & Family Care’

‘Look After Yourself’ courses run in conjunction with the Health Education Council’

Pre-retirement courses.”

Delegation, then, seems to be more miss than hit. Parents deflect their responsibility in the school which tries to concentrate it within one department (Home Economics) while providing distractors in another (tuck shop) and ignoring yet a third (school meals).

Adult Education makes some attempt at more or less the ‘soft-toy making’ class level and misses many valuable opportunities to put right what went wrong at school. The future must ensure that there is no need to put anything right and the main attention has been paid to improving the school effort.

In a short paper such as this it has only been possible to highlight some of the problems within food education and draw attention to the need for all who have a contribution to make to donate it with enthusiasm.

There is plenty of scope for research into attitudes to food education held by parents and children but to also include head teachers, other specialist teachers, those in school meals and those with food interests in the community.

The good work being done is undermined by the “nobody’s responsibility” syndrome.

It is time to stop delegating food education and see what we can do ourselves.


British Market Research Bureau,
Food Facts & Fallacies
BMRB London 1969

Brown, A.M., McKenzie, E.J.C., Yudkin, J
Feast Knowledge in Nutrition among Housewives in a London Suburb
Nutrition, Vol. 17, P.16-20, 1963

Burman, G.
‘Feast’ Progress: Theory into Practice: Part One
Home Economics, Vol27. No. 3, March 1981

Centre for Agricultural Strategy
National Food Policy in the UK
College of Estate Management, Reading Berks, 1979

Collins, S.C.
School Catering: The Place for Change?
Postgraduate Medical Journal, Vol 56, August 1980, p.610-612

Daniels, C
Integrated Subjects
Home Economics, Vol 27, No.2, February 1981

Department of Education & Science
Nutrition in Schools: Report of the Working Party on Nutritional Aspects of School Meals
HMSO 1975

Harrison, A.F.
Food Education & School Meals, Are they on separate tables?
Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. p2-5, Jan/Feb 1983

James, W.P.T.
Problems in Implementing a Good Food & Nutrition Policy in Britain
Postgraduate Medical Journal, Vol 56, p,597-60, August 1980

Robbins, C.J.
Health & Agricultural Policies: A Conflict in Soil, Food & Health (Barlow, K and Bunyard, P (eds))
AB Academic Publishers 1981

Schools Council Health Education Council
Co-ordinators Guide: Health Education 13-18 Project
‘Schep’ 1982

Turner, M
The British Nutrition Foundation – its work and its role
Home Economics, Vol 25, No. 2, February 1979

Wright, H
Swallow it Whole
New Statesman 1981

Yellowlees, W
McCarrison and Simple Truths (in) Soil, Food & Health (Barlow, K and Bunyard, P (eds))
AB Academic Publishers 1981




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