Compulsory cooking classes launch anti-obesity drive

All schoolchildren will be taught how to cook, the government said today.

Schools and children’s secretary Ed Balls said the government wanted all 11- to 14-year-olds to be taught how to prepare simple and healthy meals using fresh ingredients.

Ministers hope this will encourage healthy eating and leave children less vulnerable to weight gain, as experts predict up to a million children could be obese within a decade.

Some 85 per cent of secondary schools offer food technology classes, but these have been criticised by Ofsted for overly focusing on design and other “trivia” in a bid to bring food technology in line with other design and technology subjects.

Mr Balls told the Daily Mirror: “Teaching kids to cook healthy meals is an important way school scan help produce healthy adults.

“My mum was passionate about all this and bought me my first Delia Smith book.”

From September, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCFS) said all these schools must teach children practical cookery.

The remaining 15 per cent of secondary schools are expected to provide facilities by 2011.

The National Union of Teachers welcomed compulsory cookery classes as an “essential skill”.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the NUT, said: “Ed Balls’ welcome decision must be accompanied by a costed plan not only for in house training but providing new trained staff to teach cooking.

“Many schools need their equipment and facilities updating. Teachers’ judgements about how to include cooking in the curriculum must be respected”.

The Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) echoed these concerns, urging the government to fund and plan the initiative “very carefully”.

PAT general secretary Philip Parkin said: “Schools will be concerned about how cookery is to be squeezed into an already overcrowded curriculum, and about the purchase of the cookers and other equipment from already dwindling budgets.”

To ease concerns about staffing and resources, Mr Balls told the BBC that 800 cookery teachers will be trained.

He also said the government could subsidise ingredients for poorer pupils.

To help shape the new curriculum, Mr Balls wants people to email the DCFS with suggestions for “classic” dishes that are healthy and will appeal to teenagers.

The move marks the first-time cookery classes have been compulsory for all children in state schools.

It forms part of the government’s anti-obesity drive, to be formally launched tomorrow by Mr Balls and health secretary Alan Johnson.

The government is also expected to say all schoolchildren should take part in five hours of “organised exercise” a week.