Is food at the heart of teaching? An insight into the Initial Teacher’s Education (ITE) in Scotland
Background and aims of the study: There is a growing concern that children in Scotland are becoming more detached from food and their diets are becoming poor, with one third of them already overweight or obese (NHS Scotland 2017), unable to master basic cooking skills or identify the provenance of their foods. Scotland Food and Drink economy is thriving and yet such issues cannot be ignored. As children spend almost two decades in schools (Story et al. 2006, Wechsler et al. 2001), it is an ideal location to promote better eating habits and basic cooking skills as well as engage them in the wider conversation about the current food system. Early intervention has been proved to be the most effective approach (Janacsek et al. 2012, cited in Lavelle et al. 2016, p.2) and teachers are expected to deliver ‘Food and Health’ as part of the Curriculum for Excellence. This study will look at the Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in Scotland and explore what sort of training is offered to student teachers to enable them to teach this subject. Methods: Qualitative research, using purposive sampling, ten (10) interviews (semi structured, open-ended questions) with lecturers from seven (7) ITE providers for primary schools in Scotland (this equates to 77% of all ITE providers in Scotland). Nine (9) of the interviews were phone interviews and one interview was face-to-face. All of them were audio recorded. The interviews explored respondents views on the role of food education in achieving a Good Food Nation, their definition on food education, what they currently offer to student teachers in terms of preparing them for the task of delivering ‘Food and Health’ – part of Health & Wellbeing Curriculum for Excellence and what barriers they face and what kind of support or resources would help them improve their current offering. The interviews were anonymised, and answers were transcribed and codified for better analysis. Findings: There was overall agreement that food education is crucial to achieving a Good Food Nation in Scotland. It requires collaboration with all key stakeholders to have a clear, cohesive way forward. There was not a unified definition for Food education among interviewees. Initial Teacher Education does cover Health & Wellbeing, including Food and Health, lesson planning, food poverty and healthy eating as part of the degree, however only some of them have the staff and facilities to offer practical cooking and food growing sessions. Lack of time, facilities and expertise were among the barriers mentioned by lecturers. Conclusion: This exploratory research highlights the pressures the ITE providers are under to deliver rich content under tight timelines and without adequate resources. High numbers of students per class, lack of available time for food and health, lack of facilities and expertise are also concerning. More support from the government, re-evaluation of the ITE programmes, creative use of interdisciplinary methods to include food and health in other subjects, adapting university classrooms with portable cooking equipment, more use of online resources could improve current offering.