Best Food Forward researchers, Rosina and Jake, visited The Totteridge Academy, where Jake used to work, as part of their mapping project of secondary school food education.
They were interested in observing how food education lessons are delivered and examples of how learning about food is incorporated into different parts of the school day.
The Totteridge Academy is situated in Barnet, North London. It’s part of the United Learning Academy group and is a high-achieving mixed secondary school, last year winning the TES Secondary School of the Year. Alongside its academic focus and success, the academy values a strong whole-school approach to health, wellbeing and food.
The researchers were invited to join a Year 8 practical lesson, where students were cooking jollof rice to celebrate Black History Month. It was great to see the students exploring food from different cultures around the world. The following day, the school kitchen was serving jollof rice for lunch, so the teacher challenged the students to try it and compare it to their own! This communication and information sharing between the school kitchen and food department is a positive example of a whole school approach to food.
The department has recently been taken over by a new specialist food teacher after a year without, highlighting the staffing issues within the profession. She is supported by an experienced technician, who last year was leading the lessons herself. Throughout KS3, students study food on rotation for one term per year and the students have a practical session every other week, with demonstration sessions in between. Food Preparation and Nutrition is now back as a GCSE option and was oversubscribed this year. Students work in pairs and provide their own ingredients, meaning that families can share the cost of ingredients.
One observation from the researchers was the small class size, with only 14 students in the class. This was an intentional decision from the new teacher, to make a calmer, safer learning environment. However, as the teacher discussed, it does mean more teaching sessions throughout the week. The kitchen space itself needs updating, which according to the facilities manager is something they hope to update soon.
As part of their visit, the researchers saw the GROW farm, a 6-acre agroecological farm
based on site (previously a school playing field). GROW is a charity which works with local schools and community to promote sustainable food growing and outdoor learning. The farm grows vegetables for the kitchen and hosts afterschool clubs, holiday projects, and support programmes for students with additional needs. It acts as an educational resource for the teachers across the curriculum, who can arrange class visits to the farm to bring certain areas of their curriculum to life, such as decay or seed dispersal lessons in science lessons. The farm is also beginning to link with the food education department, with visits every term and soon to be providing vegetables and herbs for cooking sessions too.
Outside of the direct linkage with the Academy, GROW connects with the wider community, running a weekly vegetable box scheme, family open days, including pick your own flowers and a seasonal pumpkin harvest, alongside a project called ‘Grow-Cook-Share’, providing local families space to grow their own vegetables. All of this provides an important selling point for the school, with families valuing the experiential learning and outdoor learning ethos that the farm brings to the school.
After their visits, the researchers joined the food teacher for lunch, past large queues, illustrating the popularity of the school food. There was a student on work experience in the kitchen, which suggests engagement within the school community, and lots of staff were seen eating lunch too, which acts as an important modelling tool for students. They enjoyed homemade lasagne, roasted vegetables, focaccia, and salad, which was delicious and nutritious. There is a good outdoor eating area and round tables for a social experience, and importantly, the school has a strict no phone policy, so lunchtime is a time for eating, socialising, and playing.
Visiting The Totteridge Academy is an inspiring example of a whole school food approach, with communication and connection between different parts of the school and leadership support for a strong food culture. The GROW farm provides a unique opportunity for experiential learning and access to outdoor space for young people who might otherwise be disconnected from where their food comes from. The food education department is engaged and it’s great to see a connection between them and the school kitchen.
Jake's jollof rice
Inspired by his visit, here is Jake’s take on jollof rice. It’s packed full of veggies and works perfectly with fried plantain, spiced fish, chicken or roasted vegetables and a zingy salad!
This recipe feeds 4 people.
50g olive or vegetable oil
1 white onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp of tomato paste
1 tbsp curry powder
4 plum tomatoes, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 fresh scotch bonnet chill, cut in half with seeds removed
1 tsp ground black pepper
Small bunch of thyme
2 Bay leaves
1 stick of cinnamon
400ml chicken or vegetable stock
350g long grain rice
Heat your oil in a large saucepan, and add your onions, garlic, and carrot. Add your salt and stir regularly over high heat, sweating the vegetables down for 5 minutes.
Now add your tomato paste, curry powder, diced tomatoes, red pepper, and scotch bonnet chilli and cook over medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring regularly.
Add all remaining ingredients and your stock (apart from the rice) and let the soupy mixture bubble away for 20 minutes.
Whilst this is cooking, soak your rice in cold water for 5 minutes and wash it with your fingers to remove any excess starch. Drain the rice through a sieve.
After your vegetables and stock have cooked for 20 minutes. It’s time to add in your drained rice. Stir once and then cover with a lid and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 12 minutes and then turn off the heat to let the rice steam for 10 minutes before serving.
Joint strategic lead for
school food education
Best Food Forward