Reformed GCSE and A level subject content consultation

IFST response to DfE proposals on reforming GCSE and A level subject content

The Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) is the independent qualifying body for food professionals in Europe. Membership is drawn from all over the world from backgrounds including industry, universities, government, research and development and food law enforcement. IFST’s activities focus on disseminating knowledge relating to food science and technology and promoting its application. Another important element of our work is to promote and uphold standards amongst food professionals.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed new subject content for AS and A levels. In particular, the comments below relate to the proposed removal of food technology from the Design and Technology AS and A level and the decision not to develop a separate food A level.

It is very pertinent that the food and drink sector is the largest manufacturing sector of UK industry, employing around 400,000 people and with a gross value added to the economy of £21.5bn (source, Food and Drink Federation). Over the next 10 years the food and drink manufacturing sector will need 109,000 new entrants (source, National Skills Academy for Food & Drink), with more than 49,000 of these new skilled professionals. It is important that the potential impacts of decisions on career choices of students and on the food education and industry sectors are well understood prior to taking the actions outlined, and that those decisions are based on the best available evidence and rigorous analysis.

Food study at school is important to general consumer understanding of food, where food comes from, food safety and nutrition, etc. Food education contributes to the health of the nation.

IFST therefore welcomes the development of the Food Preparation and Nutrition GCSE, in light of the importance of increasing food and nutrition knowledge, to address evolving public health concerns and the lack of consumer awareness of the technologies and science involved in food manufacturing, preparation and consumption.

In addition to the life skills offered by this GCSE, a stated purpose is to help students identify further learning opportunities and career pathways; IFST is concerned that removing a future food subject option at A-level will reduce uptake of the GCSE, undermining its stated aims. Also, schools may decide that without an A level it would be difficult to retain the infrastructure necessary to resource a GCSE in the subject.

IFST is concerned that the potential impacts have not been fully explored prior to consultation, in particular the possibility that schools will divest resources away from food, potentially leading to a reduction in interest in food as a career, with a resulting impact on university recruitment and the numbers of well qualified and practical food scientists in the food industry.

It is very timely that Institute of Food Science and Technology recently held an Education Forum entitled “Education Challenges for the Food Industry (10 September 2015, Royal Society of Arts, London) with a cross section of attendees from the education and industry sectors. The intention not to have a food science A level was discussed and the general view from the industry and academic representatives was that they would still wish to see such an A level subject.

The consultation document refers to the availability of vocational qualifications post-16: IFST contends that these qualifications lack an appropriate level of science and technology focus, to supply the need for product development/technologist roles in industry that fall between the hospitality, cookery vocational subjects and scientific study at university level. An applied science A level such as food science or food technology would fulfil this need.

In our consultations on this subject, with students on university food related degrees, they have told IFST of the importance of food related studies at school to their career choice e.g.

“From my personal experience, biology and chemistry are very useful A levels for food science but don't ever put the subjects into context of food. This is where food technology/science becomes essential at A level as it links together the two subjects but from a food aspect…”

Many also recognised the need for the approach to evolve e.g.

“I think food technology has this perception of being a 'cooking' module, and people don't understand that actually it is very relevant within current science outbreaks and links very closely with plant science, genetics, immunology etc. I think if students were to understand this it would be more appealing to students.”

The consultation document does not represent a consistent approach across the applied scientific disciplines; for example environmental science is given an increased scientific focus at A level. IFST is of the view that a stand-alone scientific A level in food science would better bridge the gap between GSCE and science and technology food careers or degrees, than the current Design and Technology A level.

IFST agrees with the consultation document that core scientific subjects are important for students wishing to progress to a food science degree. However IFST would want to see an in-depth consideration of how food can be used as an exemplar in these subjects, to provide for student exposure to food careers, prior to supporting the absence of a specific food subject A level. Food science at A level offers an approach integrating many aspects of chemistry, physics, biology, engineering and human behaviour which are not currently covered by pure science A levels.

In summary, IFST requests that the DfE considers the full range of potential impacts to students, schools, universities, employers, the UK food and drink industry and public health, prior to taking the proposed actions, and engages with these stakeholders to design a robust and integrated food and food science syllabus for future generations.