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Skills for Life: The story of an inspirational young cook

by Jeannette Orrey, MBE

This blog was published in January 2017

This is about a Food for Life Gold school I have been visiting for quite a few years now. Ravenscliffe High School and Sports College is Calderdale's only Secondary Special School in what many call ‘God’s own Country’, Yorkshire. They provide education for 163 students aged 11 – 19 years. The school caters for pupils with a wide range of Special Educational Needs, including moderate and severe learning difficulties, Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (CLDD), Autistic Spectrum Condition, sensory impairment, and physical disabilities.  A small percentage have identified moderate emotional and behavioural difficulties.

The school has an Employability Programme, known as ‘Springboard’ (spring into employment),  which allows students to really get a feel for the world of work. Since its launch in 2002, the project has gone from strength to strength and there are now over 27 students involved, choosing from up to 40 established workplaces across Calderdale. This is what I want to tell you about, I have seen this in action and it’s unbelievable. The difference it has made just blew me away.

This is the story of a school with vision; a Catering Manager who is passionate about food education and his customers; a head teacher and staff who want the very best for the students of the school.

I first met Tony Mulgrew in 2008 when he was Catering Manager at Todmorden High School and already making changes within the dining room. He completely changed the food the students were eating, the school gained the Food for Life Silver School Award and food became an integral part of the school day - no mean feat in a Secondary!

Tony moved to become Catering Manager at Ravenscliffe in 2012 and quickly got the school to Food for Life Gold in 2013. This would not have been possible without the visionary head Martin Moorman, his staff and the board of Governors,  who all bought into Food for Life as a framework but also as a programme they could make their own. This blog would be pages long if I wrote about everything this school has achieved but here are just a few: 2009 - won Business Caterer of the Year; 2010 - joined the Food for Life National Cooks Network; 2014 - won the BBC Food and Farming Cook of the Year Award; 2014 - Edu Catering Magazine finalist; 2015 - Catey’s finalist. However, as Tony will be the first to tell you, it’s not about awards, it’s about making change.

And this is the story    

Through the Talent Match initiative, Ravenscliffe have recently been able to employ an ex-student in their school kitchen. This young man has gone through the Springboard programme, and has experienced a number of jobs including a weekly half day placement in the kitchen prior to leaving school in July 2016. He currently has a 33 week placement; 16 hours paid and 14 hours as a member of the schools' Post-19 employability programme. This is a fantastic opportunity and hopefully it will lead to a full time paid job at the end of the placement.

The young chef in question has specific expressive language issues and he would have struggled to achieve and maintain paid employment in the world of work for a number of reasons. However, through the diligence and support of Tony and his team he is doing remarkably well. Indeed Tony regularly says that he would “clone” him as he works extremely hard. He has been supported and welcomed in his work environment; he is a valued member of the team. He is keen to learn and takes the initiative, he understands and remembers routine and completes each task competently. As well as his catering/kitchen porter achievements he is becoming much more independent in terms of his personal appearance - taking care of his chefs whites himself using the school’s washing machine, iron and shower facilities to ensure that he is work ready each day. 

He has mastered a great many skills and is very capable in areas that involve practical tasks however, the more academic literacy and numeracy skills are incredibly challenging for him. With this in mind a local catering college is endeavoring to support him through his Level 1 Food Safety course by producing a more visual/practical accredited paper that demonstrate his aptitude and skill level. The work leading up to this will be covered in house by Tony who will evidence his work using video and photographic materials.

This ex-student would not have made these incredible achievements without the help, support and guidance of Tony and his team. They have enabled a young man who essentially has a great many special educational and social needs to potentially hold down and maintain paid employment. The bottom line is he is valued and supported on equal terms in the workplace and is an inspiration to the many students and staff at Ravenscliffe High School and he loves it! When I last went to visit the school I got the biggest hug from him. This is what makes my role so satisfying, seeing food made from scratch, seeing catering teams valued for what they do, seeing people making a difference and seeing students enjoy their food.