Food education can equal a "career, a new skill and a social experience"

Resource: Case study Age: Secondary
Food education can equal a career, a new skill and a social experience

Fast food and hyped up – or lethargic – teenagers belong in history lessons at Archbishop Ilsley Catholic Technology College, a Bronze and flagship school in Birmingham. Since joining the Partnership, students no longer ask for burgers or turkey drummers – they prefer homemade curry and roast dinners – and many more students and staff are eating school meals, which are made with organic, seasonal and local ingredients.

What they've achieved

Archbishop Ilsley joined the Food for Life Partnership in February 2009 and since joining, the college has seen marked improvements across the board. Out of 1,290 students, 75% now eat a school meal and 91% of students registered for free school meals are taking up the offer. Archbishop Ilsley says this is down to a number of actions. Letters about free school meal entitlement include claim forms and are regulary sent home to parents; the dining facilities have been refurbished, and an extra service point and new queuing systems have been introduced. Menus are displayed on television screens that are placed in the canteen and around the school. Questionnaires were sent out to pupils, parents and staff asking them how school meals could be improved.

All the pupils have a minimum of 16 hours of cookery classes a year, and there are regular opportunities for students to cook for visitors, such as governors or elderly members of the community. Guest chefs from Novotel, the hotel chain, come into Archbishop Ilsley to share their skills with students, while the college's catering manager works with small groups of ASDAN, business studies and health and social care students. Police officers from the area are invited in to enjoy a lunch with students every term, and pensioners are treated to a Christmas lunch cooked by the 6th form students using food donated by local shops.

Students are also benefiting from visits to Upper Wick Farm, a 100 hectare organic farm minutes from Worcester, and the college gardening club, both of which teach them about organic food and farming. Small groups are taken to the allotment once a fortnight, and every Sunday from 10am to 4pm – weather permitting – the allotment is open to community members.

The difference it makes

Archbiship Ilsley has taken full advantage of the Food for Life Partnership training in compost-making, growing food, farm links, cookery, how to improve the dining experience, and how to source more local fresh and organic food, and according to science teacher Chris Price the results are impressive. He says students have lost weight; they are now eating fresh fruit and vegetables and cooking with the produce they are growing, which they would never have done in the past. Concentration and behaviour have improved, and one student has even decided to take a horticultural qualification with a view to pursuing a career in landscape gardening.

What they say

Anna O’Sullivan, Food for Life Partnership West Midlands manager, says: "The whole school community has really taken the Food for Life Partnership ethos on board, and throughout the past year they have achieved wonderful things. Food isn't simply something you eat in a hurry; it can be a career, a new skill and a social experience. Through recognising the enjoyment pupils, staff and communities can gain through good food, Archbishop Ilsley College has been surprised by the benefits of a project they initially considered to be just about healthy eating."

The Food for Life Partnership is a network of schools and communities across England committed to transforming food culture. Together we are revolutionising school meals, reconnecting children and young people with where their food comes from, and inspiring families to grow and cook food.

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