GCSE COOKERY - Teaching Life Skills?

My wife has been reading-up on the new GCSE Cookery course over the last few months and found that her pupils attempting the new GCSE in cooking and nutrition, will be required to get to grips with 20 practical cookery skills that include:
  • Knife skills: fillet a chicken breast and fish; slice meat, fish, tofu and halloumi; cut fruit and vegetables into even size pieces
  • Prepare fruit and vegetables: mash, shred, scissor snip, scoop, crush, grate, peel, segment, de-skin, de-seed, blanch, shape, pipe, blend, juice and prepare garnishes
  • Making the cut: Among the skills needed will be the ability to fillet fish and debone chicken
  • Using the grill: char, grill or toast a range of foods such as vegetables, meat, fish or alternatives such as halloumi, seeds and nuts
  • Make sauces: make a blended white sauce such as a roux and all in one blended sauce, infused sauce, veloute, béchamel; make a reduction sauce such as pasta sauce, curry sauce, gravy, meat sauce; make an emulsion sauce such as a salad dressing
  • Set a mixture by heating: make quiche, choux pastry
  • Shaping and finishing a dough: roll out pastry, use a pasta machine, line a flan ring, create layers, bread rolls, pasta, flat breads, pinwheels, pizza and calzone
How many adults can do all or some of these?  Can you fillet fish or make fresh pasta? I can do the latter but I always ask the fishmonger to do former. 

At a conference in Stroud last week, cookery teachers questioned the relevance of getting pupils to make, for example, choux pastry or the need for advanced knife skills.

Teenagers attempting the new GCSE in cooking will need to demonstrate a wider range of practical skills than has ever been demanded of school pupils. However, Government
Ministers say that the new qualification will prepare students for a catering career. But examiners and teachers warned last week that the new course may be too difficult. They have questioned the ‘real-world relevance’ of techniques on the curriculum such as advanced knife skills for filleting fish and also warned that too much theoretical knowledge is needed.They also claim that the GCSE’s emphasis on planning a three-course meal could favour traditional British menus instead of inspiring pupils to experiment with international cuisines.

The new GCSE – due to be introduced in schools in September 2016 – will merge content from the three current GCSEs which cover food or cooking. The course will place a strong emphasis on practical cooking techniques in contrast to existing food-related GCSEs which require candidates to complete tasks such as designing food packaging. It is intended to boost the nation’s skills in the kitchen as well as setting some candidates on the path to careers in the catering or food industries.

Details of proposed course content were unveiled earlier this year by the Department for Education. But now the exam board OCR, which asked teachers for their views on the GCSE, is calling for current plans to be reviewed to prevent thousands of would-be students shunning the subject. In a draft submission to the Government, it said that ‘some teachers felt that the depth and breadth of knowledge, understanding and skills is demanding.
There is too much theoretical content to cover and teachers will require considerable training and support,’ the board said. Many teachers do not have the cookery skills themselves, which they will be required to pass on to their students. It also sounded a warning over the cost of equipment and ingredients for teaching practical skills which may be of limited real-world relevance.

Teachers consulted by OCR also warned that the word ‘cooking’ in the qualification title could deter boys from taking what was traditionally considered a ‘girl’s subject’. Pupils will need to be able to use a pasta machine as well as make perfect pastry. And there were even worries that the label ‘cooking’ implies a lack of rigour, potentially putting off more able students.

Unveiling the new qualification, minister for school reform Nick Gibb said: ‘At the heart of any food qualification should be a focus on developing practical cookery skills and a strong understanding of nutrition. ‘That’s why we’ve created the cooking and nutrition GCSE so that rather than designing food packaging, students will now learn the essentials of food science, nutrition and how to cook healthily.This qualification will give young people the preparation they need to succeed in the food and hospitality industries as well as giving them vital life skills.'

The Government has already made cooking and food education compulsory for pupils aged five to 14 in a new national curriculum being implemented this term. The shake-up of GCSEs follows a proposal from exams watchdog Ofqual for GCSEs which overlap to be phased out to maintain confidence in the system. GCSEs in home economics, design and technology with food technology and hospitality and catering are expected to be discontinued because they overlap with the proposed new course.

Do you agree with teachers that the new cooking GCSE is too demanding or do you agree with the Government that being able to make fresh pasta or choux pastry will give young people the vital ''life skills'' they currently lack?

(See also my blog ''Cooking At School is Back'' - 3 October 2014)


  1. Tomorrow's blog (13 February 2015) will comment on the new GCSE's course content which was published today by the DFE (UK). The new GCSE has been re-titled 'Food preparation and nutrition', as UK teachers lobbied the Government to remove the word 'Cooking'.


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