Andrew Wakeford joined West Herts College as a chef lecturer in 2006. He started a commercial cooking career in 1974 by gaining a level 1 and 2 professional chefs diploma at Westminster College followed by his first full-time job at London’s Churchill Hotel. He then spent eight years at the BBC, before taking a series of chef and catering management roles. After entering FE as a chef lecturer, he was promoted to programme coordinator and, in 2017, head of school.
I didn’t do well at school; I wasn’t really interested. I spent the next three years at college getting a level 2 professional chef diploma. I’ve always enjoyed being at work, interacting with people and seeing them enjoy food. I’ve managed small and large catering teams (I was responsible for 64 staff when I worked at Lloyds, in London) and done a lot of training and staff development, which inspired me to enter FE and pass on my experience.
An ability to develop people’s skills and show endless patience. Every student is different - some pick things up immediately, others may be told six times and still not understand. You also need resilience - sometimes things don’t work in lessons and you need to know how to deal with people. Show calm authority but, equally, be there to support your students.
At least around 10 years’ experience in different parts of the industry, getting to know the theoretical as well as practical sides. You need to have reached levels 1, 2 and 3 in professional cookery, such as an NVQ; gained a level 3 teaching qualification and, ideally, a PGCE (teacher training). I was also sponsored by a former employer to do a five-year part-time degree in food management at Ealing College (now University College of West London).
As a ‘people/student manager’ I look after a 17-strong team comprising chef and front-of-house lecturers, a restaurant supervisor, additional learning support staff and stores personnel - plus 150-200 students. I still get some cooking to keep my hand in. The department runs around 60 practical classes each week and has to get all food ready for each session.
We run full-time courses for 16-19s in professional cookery and a BTec in hospitality and events management, evening qualifications in pastry-making, and leisure courses such as cake decorating, Italian cooking, and good meals on a budget. I oversee everything, including college restaurant bookings and hygiene, health and safety standards. I deal with City and Guilds & Pearson awarding bodies, ensure delivery and Internal quality assurance is of a high standard, check on any updates to qualifications, do some assessing, deal with our restaurant customers and work on events with local organisations and firms.
I get in at 8.30am and lessons start at 9.00am. I’ll walk around the department to check there are no problems, check attendance, ensure that teaching and learning is progressing as it should and matches up to schemes of work, and then sift through emails. I regularly meet with teaching and learning leaders and the senior management team, contact local businesses about work experiences and book events with charities and local organisations … between the end of March and the end of June we’ve had to cancel 18 events on which we have spent a lot of time preparing menus and costing.
Chef lecturers teach 25 hours a week, comprising maybe 12-15 hours’ practical and 10 hours’ classroom-based theory and tutorials. I tend to give new starters tutorial responsibility for a first-year group. Tutors work with their groups for at least one weekly three-hour session in the kitchen focusing, say, on pastry or culinary skills, according to the lecturer’s specialism, or spending up to four hours in the training restaurant taking on front-of-house or chef duties. Lecturers might also have a level 2 or 3 group with three hours in the kitchen on culinary skills or do 1.5 hours a week of theory and get involved in health and safety. When timetabling, I try to give them a broad selection of classes with different groups at different levels. Lecturers work a 39-hour week, with non-teaching time spent planning, including writing food orders, sourcing or writing recipes, organising schemes of work and marking theory papers.
We put on an inaugural monthly lunch for dementia sufferers and their families/carers before the Covid-19 lockdown (all participating students have dementia-friendly training); planned a young chefs’ academy course over six Saturdays for pupils aged 14-16 years from local schools (now postponed); and laid on a twice-yearly gourmet dinner with wine for 50 members of West Herts golf club, provided by our level 3 students.
Practical sessions in the kitchen - it’s what chefs do! It’s great to pass on knowledge to young people. There’s nothing better than getting a really good group of say 12-15 students in a class and showing them how to prepare, say, beef stroganoff with rice, and then two or three hours later seeing them produce identical dishes - you know you’ve taught them properly!
We’re often asked to meet new quality standards, come up with innovative ways of teaching and make theory classes more ‘sexy’ - but my students much prefer to ‘do food’ in the kitchen and a number struggle to cope with more than an hour in a theory lesson. Imaginative teaching is required.
My good relationship with the head chefs of the local five-star Grove Hotel has seen my students gain work placements in the hotel’s kitchen or front of house - 55 have later become full-time staff. I‘m also particularly proud of two level 1 students I taught in my first year of teaching who now own a bakery in Reading and a restaurant in Pinner and others from more than a decade ago who are in head chef roles throughout the world and still stay in contact.
Have you really thought this through? Can you contribute 105% to these young people’s education? What results do you expect from your students over the next five years?
I love my job and never tire of helping young people develop their careers.
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