Did you know that the government has decided to abolish the study of all ‘Food’ at A Level from the school curriculum?
On Thursday 16th July, OFQUAL (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) announced the study of ‘Food’ will be removed as an A level option, meaning, the last ever cohort of A level ‘Food’ students will enrol this September 2015. This decision was made by the Government without consultation involving DATA (Design and Technology Association), the exam boards, all universities offering food related courses and many other professional bodies for the below reasons:
- Food as a subject did not fit comfortably within Design and Technology
- There are food related career specific vocational qualifications available post-16
- According to the consultation “top universities offering food science/nutrition related courses have told us they are looking for students with science qualifications for entry onto their courses, rather than food-related A levels.” However, this research was conducted with food under Design and Technology, not as a subject in its own right.
Food technology will be the only national curriculum subject that does not have an A level (some subjects have more than one A level). The purpose of the article, is that we are simply asking for an equal footing – it is not more important – but it is as important. Without an A level, we estimate that less than one in five primary school teachers will be teaching food, having only studied it beyond 12 years old. This cannot be right for something as complex as the obesity issue. Nutrition is complex; the skills shortage in the industry is diminishing too. Vocational qualifications that DfE say can replace it offer a very narrow career choice and are not appropriate for schools (plus many of these courses are up for review and due to finish shortly, so they may not even exist)!
An Open Letter to the DfE:
This is a letter written by Rachel Richards, head of design and technology at Hitchin Girls’ School in Hertfordshire.
In September 2014, Food and Nutrition study became compulsory for key stage 1-3 students. There is also a new GCSE Food Preparation and Nutrition for key stage 4 combining all previous GCSE food courses into one from September 2016. Yet, from 2016 onwards, the ‘only food qualification’ taught in schools at key stage 5 will be a Level 3 Certificate/Diploma in Food Science and Nutrition.
Having reviewed this one qualification available in detail, we have concluded it is both unsuitable across the entire ability range of students studying current food A level courses, and lacking in rigour for top universities offering undergraduate courses in nutrition, dietetics, food science and technology. Whilst uptake for food A Levels are low, research across all exam boards demonstrates a positive increase of students converting GCSE food technology, food and nutrition and home economics to A Level from 2.62% moving to 3.04% within the last five years. Despite the introduction of EBacc having a detrimental impact on GCSE figures, it would be realistic to expect with such a subject overhaul and investment into food at key stage 1-4, that these uptake numbers will continue to increase.
Students choose an A Level in food for reasons because the study of science is more accessible through practical learning, gaining valuable transferrable skills, ambitions to work within the food sector; great employment prospects, or an interest in a nutrition and dietetics career. It is also an engaging subject for young people. In our experience, many of our students who go on to study food-related degree courses, do so primarily as a result of their exposure of food technology at A level.
A number of students studying the current A level Food qualifications (combined with a core science) have been accepted to Russell Group universities and graduated with food science / nutrition degrees and other qualifications. Removing the food A level qualification restricts recruitment solely to students who are choosing a vocational rather than an academic route.
We believe that all students should be able to choose whether they go down a “vocational” or “academic” route regardless of subject interest, as represented in industry and the variety of employment positions available. With 3.3 million people in Great Britain employed in the food sector, covering 12% of the British workforce (Food Statistics Pocketbook 2014, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and according to the NHS, the number of jobs for nutritionists has grown faster than in any other sector (Source) we question where will all these prospective candidates for graduate and postgraduate employment come from if they have not been exposed to food science(s) at A Level?
Ironically on the same day that the government announced the removal of A level food, environment secretary Elizabeth Truss met with eighty leading representatives to discuss and design the ‘Great British Food and Farming Plan’; a 25-year plan to secure the future of British food manufacture and sales.
How can the removal of food as an A Level be consistent with the direction of future government policy? By devaluing the subject in schools, it will remove the importance of food to the public. Government policy will not be able to help fight the increasing food and health related issues in our society, nor will it help with recruitment and retention in this industry as 18 year olds will all be taking A levels without the knowledge and skills needed for food and nutrition related employment.
Lastly, we would like you to consider the impact removing A Level food will have on the employment of food technology teachers; those new to the profession who have paid for a PGCE, enabling them to teach food to key stage 3-5 and the message this sends to potential food teachers. There is already an insufficient recruitment pool of qualified professionals possessing skills needed to teach the key stage 1-3 courses (that have recently been made compulsory).
In light of our research and comments from OFQUAL we are proposing the creation of a new and rigorous A level, as opposed to removing this vital academic option altogether. We would like to see it develop as follows:
- Reduce food A level courses to just one, by replacing food technology and home economics to food science and nutrition (similar to the recent changes at GCSE).
- Increase the science content of the A level representing food and its importance in today’s society, whilst meeting university science requirements and industry needs. It should also be noted that most food related degrees are awarded a BSc. at the end of study – representing the science elements studied in the qualifications.
Naturally, these proposals would require collaboration from exam boards, universities and all other stakeholders, enabling students to be better prepared for degree level studies in an A Level such as food science and nutrition, alongside giving our students the opportunity to make better informed life decisions and being able to value their chosen career path.
We implore you to join with ourselves, university academics and industry professionals in demanding that OFQUAL reinstate food with science as an A level that is separate from design and technology. You can do this by responding to question 2a in the consultation on A level reform.
Rachel Richards. Head of Design & Technology at a school in Hertfordshire.
What to do next?
Use social media and check out the activity on Twitter. Raise awareness with as many ‘food supporters’ as you can and use the hashtag #SaveFoodTechAlLevel and the Twitter handle @FoodTCentre. There is tremendous support on Twitter, so get involved.
Write to your local MP and raise your concerns. Many food teachers have been in touch with their MP and have raised concerns (see notes below); the more coverage across the UK the better. Details on how to find and contact your local MP can be found here. Email the DfE direct at 2017GCSEsandAlevels.firstname.lastname@example.org
Download the briefing paper here, written by @FoodTCentre.