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By Nathalie Bufton, Head of Independent Living Skills at NCW

Blog published 18th March 2018 | Category: New College Worcester

How can students who are blind or visually impaired present food for exams to a high standard?

We now enter our practical examination time; where many will be sitting the new GCSE specifications for the first time. There will be many teachers trying to gauge what marks equal what grade. My team suddenly become aware that the learners at NCW have to achieve so much more than their mainstream peers.

They have to be able to plate three recipe dishes and accompaniments in a manner that shows a high standard of presentation, accurate portion control and clearly identifies how the dishes form a meal. The food styling needs to show high quality finish with attention to detail on the aesthetics.

The nature of a visual impairment means that fine detail, skills related to the plating of the food and the overall appearance of food, is something that is difficult to achieve. The term "we eat with our eyes" means that if food looks attractive we are more likely to eat it. However, as Pat McDonald (NCW Food Ambassador) would say, food is about taste not what it looks like.

I am urging Pat to write to the exam boards on our behalf. As a teacher I have to assess on the same assessment criteria as mainstream peers, very difficult when I want to consider all of the other factors - such as direction of practical assistant, use of assistive technology to follow the time plan, wondering if the talking timers and thermometers are working and that they are being heard in the busy room, how the student is managing with a member of staff who they have only met in exam conditions before and spending the whole morning preparing cooking and serving three dishes plus accompaniments due to extra time – this is a lot to take in.

A recent session with professional Chefs from Green Cow kitchens showed how we can bring in other techniques to make the food attractive. The explanation of how they presented their dishes has made the techniques much more accessible for our students. Getting up and close to the finished food has made them feel empowered that elements of this can be incorporated into their own dishes.

As a result, most students are considering single portions rather than slices so they showcase the product in its entirety. This has meant that they are able to make more and then choose the best to present. We spent half term growing our own micro herbs so they can be added appropriately to the plates of food to add colour, height and texture. We have invested in slates and bamboo platters so that food can be softened or hardened by the material it is presented upon and given excitement and interest. The students have learnt how to plate on these rectangular items, oiling the slate to give shine and a contrast and adding separate serving containers and individual jugs for jus. These may have decreased my budget in the short term but has engaged these learners in a really visual creative journey that as a teacher I had wondered would ever be possible.

Good presentation of food may mean balancing colours and textures but for our students at NCW it has meant that they have had to think creatively, tap in to a toolbox of techniques and use the equipment available - and they have achieved results that their sighted peers can aspire to.

Food Presentation Collage

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