When Sue Vickerman, Headteacher of Gawthorpe Community Primary School saw the invitation to be involved in Open Futures, she could see immediately how well the philosophy and the approach would fit with the curriculum she wanted for her children.
“We had already concluded that developing the learning and teaching from a skills-base rather than a content-base was significant for us because it allowed us to construct our curriculum around contexts which would be both motivational for our children but would also ensure that they progressively learnt all the key skills that they would need throughout their lives. It also enabled us to concentrate on lots of first-hand experiences which are important for children who sometimes have more limited opportunities in the wider community.”
Cooking has always been important at Gawthorpe. A specialist room had been developed some years earlier which ensured that all children had lots of opportunities to cook and to bake. Gardening too had been developed, thanks to the expertise and willingness of a member of the school’s administrative staff to guide and support.
When the Open Futures project began the two strands continued to be lead by different people and both flourished, assisted by the RHS and Focus on Food. At the end of two years the project was reviewed. Key areas for development were to strengthen the relationship between gardening and cooking, to extend both areas across the school and to develop skills progression in cooking.
Sally Adams, the school’s Open Futures Coordinator comments:
“In the first 18 months of being part of Open Futures, the staff needed to become familiar with and confident about the correct techniques for growing, preparing and cooking a much wider range of foods; a task ably supported through RHS and Focus on Food training and the on-going support of the specialist Project Officer. As everyone became more confident with the basics for teaching these skills, we began to see just how influential and motivational working in these contexts could be.
However, two years down the line, we could also see some gaps, acrossgrowit and cookit - lots of produce being grown but not cooked and no real planning in the garden for what we wanted to learn about, cook and eat later in the year. In cookit, there was also a lack of skills progression, which made it difficult to assess pupil progress and the impact of this work on pupils’ learning.”
This evaluation led to some interesting and important changes. A cooking-skills progression chart now supports all the planning for all year groups, from Reception/Year 1 through to Year 6, ensuring that there is continuity and progression across all cooking activities and that learning goals are clear and can be assessed. The cooking skills are linked to the Focus on Food recipes and the produce grown in the garden.
A member of staff has been released from her more general support activities and is now solely engaged in supporting cookit across the year groups. Teaching Assistant Sue Cook was always central to this work at the school.
“Two things stick in my mind from my own time in school – I loved the cooking lessons and I enjoyed being with young children. Becoming a Teaching Assistant at Gawthorpe offered an opportunity to be involved in both but I could never have imagined that it would eventually change my life so dramatically. Now I support all the planning of interesting and engaging activities about food, often within topics and themes, as well as actually cooking with all the year groups in the school. The training and then working alongside the Project Officer has enabled me to see the wider potential of all the activities and my own confidence in working with others and demonstrating all the skills has grown.”
Joint planning across the cooking and gardening teams ensures that all the links are made in the early stages of planning and each team understands the breadth of learning being supported by their colleagues.
cookit is now timetabled for all classes in addition to Years 2 and 3 where the project is focussed. Every class cooks for a two or three week block each term with the cooking linked to skills progression and the class topics. Gardening has been extended from Years 2 and 3 with Year 4 growing a herb garden and Year 5 a memorial garden. In this way the skills learnt in Years 2 and 3 are extended and consolidated.
Themes and topics right across the school and in every subject area can now have an Open Futures dimension, especially through the food. The topic of India now gains much from the pupils learning about but also growing and cooking the distinctive dishes which make up the Asian cuisine, developing their understanding and respect for the cultural identity of the Indian community. Open Futures has supported the development of literacy through writing instructions, poetry and reports. Science teaching of plants and habitats has been enhanced by the garden. In DT food packaging for Mothers’ Day gifts, sustainable shopping bags and plant containers have been made.
Multi-cultural education will be further supported through a new initiative with a local school which wants to create a new garden from what is currently a wilderness; the children will act as mentors and guides to the school, using their skills and knowledge to help others but also making important links with a different community just down the road.
Links with parents are encouraged through the children themselves taking responsibility for supporting key functions in the school year. This year the Year 6 pupils will prepare lunch for their parents as part of their Leavers programme. Children in Years 2 and 3 prepared a Mothers’ Day tea for their mums this year. Harvest Festival now involves produce from the school garden being distributed to the elderly in the village.
“The impact of all the elements of Open Futures is everywhere, providing children with interesting, motivating contexts for learning through which they are developing as young people and seeing the relevance of what they do and learn in school. The potential is endless – the more we look at growit and cookit, the more we see. So many ideas are bubbling around, for example a Cookery Book (Literacy), a Café (Enterprise, Numeracy, Personal Development) and so on. In addition, as we embed growit and cookit firmly into our learning and teaching, the focus for askit and filmit become clearer and extend the learning of pupils in so many other ways. Best of all, the children love it and want to be involved. What could be better than that?”