At Charlton Manor Primary School, food education is at the heart of everything we do.  Our vision is to equip children for life by teaching them about food – where it comes from, how to cook it and how it affects our bodies, in conjunction with Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen Garden Project. We have also taken this idea one step further by enabling children to use these skills to embed all areas of the curriculum, from English and Maths to Science and History. We have unique facilities that enable us to make this vision a reality and it is evident in our results what an impact this has on our children’s academic attainment.

Our journey all started with an unused space on our school grounds and a conversation about what to develop it into. The children were really enthusiastic about the idea of a garden and were interested in food growing and making healthier choices. The children were intimately involved in the garden’s design (based on their own brief) and eventually the garden became a reality, opening its gates in 2006.

Named our ‘Secret Garden’, this area of the school is a constant hub of activity which is enjoyed by children and teachers throughout the school on a daily basis. It’s not only seen as a garden, but as an exciting place which can provide a wide range of unique and memorable teaching opportunities and learning experiences. We have since won awards for Best School Garden 2015 (Bexley and Bloom) and the Community Garden Green Flag Award.

Around the same time that our ‘Secret Garden’ opened, Jamie Oliver visited Charlton Manor, a pioneer school for his healthy school dinners campaign. This, along with the vision of our headteacher, has enabled us to become what we are today. We joined Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen Garden project, and this has really become the basis for everything that we do here at Charlton Manor. We started using fresh ingredients from the garden in our school kitchen for the children to really experience the idea of ‘pot to plate’. This subsequently led to us building and opening our very own teaching kitchen, allowing for the children to learn how to cook using food which they had helped to plant and care for themselves. A couple of years later Charlton Manor gained two professional teaching chefs, who have been fundamental in bringing our teaching kitchen alive. They have worked tirelessly in conjunction with the teachers, enabling them to create engaging and inspiring lessons for children in all areas of the curriculum.

As a school, we believe that there is no better way to educate children than to give them practical, real life and purposeful experiences which enable them to reach their full potential.

Children from Nursery right up to Year 6 have access to the kitchen across nearly every subject in the curriculum. Whatever the unique learning experience is, the teachers and our very accommodating chefs have proved that nothing is unachievable or too extreme! Even nursery children are taught how to use sharp knives from the moment they start preparing food in our kitchen, so that the skills involved in cooking become second nature to them and they are then able to learn other skills and knowledge through the practical nature of cooking.

In Year 1 as part of a topic on Kings and Queens the children experienced what it would be like to be at a real Medieval feast, complete with pig’s head and non-alcoholic beer! We have also used the kitchen to enable the children to understand about rationing: the foods that were eaten during the war and how they were stored. When learning about food in space, Year 5 children looked at different methods of preservation such as vacuum packing, cooling, freezing and sealed containers such as Tupperware to compare the end products once they had been left for a week. These represent only a small sample of the many varied and enthralling experiences that really bring the learning alive for the children and leave them with lasting memories and knowledge about food which they will talk about for years to come.

The people that benefit from Charlton Manor’s philosophy aren’t just the pupils, parents and staff at the school. Every year we hold a Food Conference, and people from all over the country visit to listen to guest speakers, as well as some of our own staff, talk about the importance of the food revolution and what an impact it has on the future of our children. It’s a fantastic day and people who come along always tell us how much they gained from attending.

This Friday is of course Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day!  As part of this Charlton Manor have two budding young chefs who will be cooking a Greek feast live on a Facebook stream and 5 other cooking enthusiasts who will be demonstrating their talent at the brand new Jamie Oliver Cooking School. This is a very exciting day of the year at Charlton Manor and this year we have teamed it together with our annual Food Conference so that delegates can come and witness cooking at it’s finest throughout the school in the afternoon. Each class will be cooking alongside Jamie at 1.30pm and we have come up with our own healthy ‘Charlton Manor pizzas’ especially for the occasion. The children will be demonstrating all of the skills they have learnt and working as a team to make a mini pizza for every child. For photos of this fantastic event watch this space…

More recently we have started to run courses for teachers across the country to promote and share our practice with other schools, with the hope that our message will reach as far as possible and encourage others to join in our vision. We have received very positive feedback from the courses that have been run so far, with delegates saying what they found most interesting was “the way in which it was possible to engage all the children in cooking in the classroom, particularly in creative writing“. Another delegate simply commented, “Given us so much to think about – inspirational”. This has in turn inspired us to run further courses and we hope to support others with taking this forward in their own schools after being told by one person that they were “very keen to be a part of schools food network and maintain links into the future”.

Charlton Manor also has national and international links with schools from Cornwall, Buckinghamshire, Kent, Germany, India, Nepal and Gambia, to name a few. Our teachers have the opportunity to visit these places to support and share our practice, as well as working with the staff there to generate new ideas for the future.

Charlton Manor has a clear and revolutionary vision under the leadership of Tim Baker.  He inspires us all to live the food revolution on a daily basis. The children love every experience that we offer them. They are given the opportunity to experience cooking that inspires them to learn in every area of the curriculum, as well as equipping them with skills they will need for life.

About Megan Riddle

Megan Riddle is a teacher at Charlton Manor Primary School in South East London. As part of her role coordinating DT and Cooking, Megan works with the chef to look at the range of cooking that is taking place across the school and ensure that the kitchen is being used to teach a variety of subjects throughout the year groups. Megan has recently set up courses to teach English and Maths through cooking to other teachers across the country and is hoping to continue this based on the positive feedback received.