The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Cooking up IDL at Harrysmuir Primary

Morag Pendry has taken food technology to a new level

For the last two years I have been involved in an interdisciplinary learning (IDL) initiative that has not only worked, but also has the potential to close the attainment gap.

In 2017, as a 60-year-old primary teacher who had taken early retirement, I was still up for doing some supply work. I didn’t want to take a permanent contract… until I spoke to the management team at Harrysmuir Primary School in Livingston.

The school had received some Pupil Equity Funding (PEF), which they wanted to spend on an initiative that would genuinely engage the disengaged and consequently raise their attainment, particularly in numeracy and literacy. They knew I had been an active proponent of Enterprise and IDL and they wanted to chat about what we could do together.

The school was fortunate as it had installed a dedicated children’s kitchen. As my first degree was in Home Economics, it seemed an obvious choice for me to teach cooking. The Harrysmuir Primary team was enthusiastic about my suggestions as to how we could introduce this as part of an IDL and enterprise approach for the pupils, and ultimately the whole school.

Ready, steady, cook

My first task was to create a timetable that gave all P5-P7s a 90-minute dedicated slot in the kitchen. This required splitting the class in half; one group came to me in the kitchen while the other group worked with their teacher, who could then focus on weighing and measuring, and functional writing lessons in the classroom. I tailored our recipes to fit with the class teaching.

This interdisciplinary approach filtered into other areas of the school’s activities. They took the food waste from our cooking and fed it to the worms or added it to the compost heap in the school garden. They planted herbs and collected them to add flavour to their recipes. They gathered apples from the school grounds and researched what they could make with the fruit. This led to a Christmas enterprise of making and selling chutney and apple crumble. The P7s decided to make and sell Christmas cakes and in the process learnt about food labelling and calculated whether or not they were making a profit.

Enterprise activities

As more of the classes enjoyed their time in the kitchen, discussions at the pupil council meetings led to a whole-school IDL/enterprise activity. They were now more aware of the importance of eating healthily and of the enjoyment they had from cooking, and they wanted to encourage healthy eating in their local community. The pupils applied for funding from an Education Scotland food initiative and set up their own market stall. Once a week, in the playground, they sold soup packs to parents and carers, which contained everything required to make one of their favourite recipes. The application of what they had learned in numeracy was exponential. Their next step is to sell some of the produce from their school garden.

Nourishing learning

Even though I have now left Harrysmuir, the sustainability of this project is assured as one of the classroom assistants that I worked with has taken over. But the main reason this IDL initiative will continue is because the pupils have loved the cooking and can see a real purpose for their learning. Liaising with staff throughout the school has allowed the pupils to make links across the curriculum and consequently make sense of why, and what, they are learning.

Apart from the obvious health and wellbeing, numeracy and literacy outcomes, Developing the Young Workforce was a big boxticker when it came to evaluation. We aspire for our young people of today to be the employees, employers and self-employed of the future. To make this happen, we need adaptable, autonomous, self-directed individuals, who are confident communicators, but most of all, young people who are engaged and motivated through having a purpose for their learning. Can we honestly say that we base our planning and preparation with this in mind, particularly for our less than enthusiastic learners? I did, and the Curriculum for Excellence Experiences and Outcomes flowed naturally.


Professor Colin Graham of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) on IDL Teaching Scotland, issue 80, pages 20-21

A research strategy for Scottish education, June 2017

Morag presented a poster and jointly ran a workshop at this year’s IDL conference in Edinburgh. Read the IDL conference paper at