What’s cookery called in school?


Its 1970 and I have to decide the subject name I want on my cookery room door. The caretaker is taking down the Housecraft sign, but will I choose Cookery, Home Economics, Domestic Science or Food and Nutrition? What on earth is the name of the subject I teach? Try and think of any other school subject that has five different names. If a magazine changed its name this frequently, it would have gone bust and out of print and defunct long ago.

So it is that students arrive through my door, bewildered about what they will study, followed by the ‘I hate all my subjects’ and ‘I don’t know what to do’ and ‘I hate school so they’ve told me to come to you.’ There are also students that other teachers think are too lazy or stupid to do anything else. Anyone can cook. It’s not like other subjects that require a few brain cells to master techniques and learn the facts. Cookery is perfect for the badly behaved, disaffected, non readers and generally daft. My job at the start of term is to keep classes in order and jolly them along to turn up and do some work. And enjoy the cooking too.

The main tactic that I use to keep order and get things done, apart from being stern, is to tell everyone that they will take the EXAM. This is a scary choice for me, as my end of year results are judged on how many exam passes I achieve. Some of my students are not entered for any other subjects, but if I let one person off the challenge, they’ll mutter and moan and disrupt the group. So it’s one goal for all. They have to take a two or two and a half hour practical cooking exam backed up with a long written paper.

For the practical they have to cook meals, and cakes and bread and biscuits and pastry and show as many skills as they can throw into the time. I think the cookery practical is the most challenging exam that a sixteen year old can take. They are competing against themselves and must produce an edible, attractive display of food at the end of the exam time – even burnt food has to be displayed to get some marks. And they are marked throughout on technique, safety and hygiene. That exam over, they have to answer the daft and sexist questions from our silly textbooks for their written exam.

My exam training camp starts immediately the autumn term begins. There is always homework after each lesson, and anyone that forgets has a detention. They are expert at homework excuses. ‘I left it on the bus’, ‘My pen ran out’, ‘My dog ate it’, ‘Jimmy took it and didn’t give it back.’

Detention means that I have to stay late at school to supervise the miscreants, and while other teachers gossip in the staffroom, the end of my day is spent with the usual group who stay after school to complete their work. As the autumn term progresses, the detention group dwindles in size. This means two things. Firstly, the majority are learning that I mean business. Secondly, that those that don’t care bunk off and no amount of threats and remonstration will persuade them to hand in their written work. Often these students leave after the spring term and never take the dreaded exam.

But back to the subject name. What is it? Over the years the exam name changes and I tell the school office that we are to be called this and that. But in the end it is down to basics – I am teaching them how to cook!

History note

In 1990 the subject changed its name again to Food Technology. This meant students had to learn about the industrial production of food products and make a food product that could be sold to a target group.

The government became concerned that students did not know how to cook, so Licence to Cook was started  to make sure that all students learnt some basic cooking skills during their school life.

So what’s in a name?

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Filed under Home Economics in 1970

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