Schools and the wider education sector have a vital role to play in contributing to the ‘Healthy Ireland’ agenda that is being led by the Department of Health and is supported by the Department of Education and Skills and Government Departments. The Healthy Ireland agenda is committed to supporting everyone’s efforts to improve their health and wellbeing. Schools are strongly encouraged to have a formal healthy eating policy that has been developed in consultation with students and parents.
The Department of Education and Skills works closely with the Department of Health and the HSE on the Healthy Ireland agenda. Healthy Lifestyles guidance issued to post primary schools in 2015 and primary schools in 2016. This guidance was drafted in consultation with the Department of Health.
The Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme is a mandatory part of the curriculum in junior cycle. SPHE for Junior Cycle builds on the primary SPHE curriculum. Nutrition is specifically addressed in the SPHE curriculum. Students are made aware of the elements of a balanced diet and the importance of healthy eating for physical and mental well-being. In addition, cross-curricular links with other subjects, such as Home Economics, PE and Science that deal with SPHE-related topics are encouraged. Also, Home Economics as an exam subject remains popular.
Given the issues of overload which are emerging in evaluations, allied with criticisms that some of these areas receive inadequate coverage, it is not feasible for the curriculum to be further extended to include all students being taught cooking in schools. However, some schools through the transition year programme offer short courses in cookery that support students to develop the necessary skills for independent living.
The decision on what is offered in terms of subject choices or short courses for Junior Cycle or modules for the Transition Year Programme remains at the discretion of the individual school. The aim is to support students to have as broad a range of options (that reflect their interests) to choose from as possible. Curriculum choice is important in motivating students to learn, and to remain in school to completion of senior cycle.