Otley: Teaching priority change hits Easton and Otley College drive to increase access to farming and horticulture

Clive Bound

Clive Bound - Credit: Archant

While the region’s farming industry is desperate to recruit a new generation of high-skilled technical operators, the number of 14 to 16-year-olds visiting the college has halved in the past two years.

Easton’s innovative programme to encourage teenagers to find out about farming and agricultural machinery led to the visit of the Prince of Wales in 2003. He met and chatted to youngsters, who were visiting the college as an introduction to carry out further training in a possible career in land-based industries.

Clive Bound, deputy principal, said the college has maintained strong links with local primary schools and about 3,000 children each year, had a chance to learn about farming. However, changes to the national curriculum have effectively discouraged sp,e schools from sending 14 to 16- year-olds to the college.

“The number of 14 to 16-year- olds visiting has declined from about 600 two years ago to about 300,” he said.

“We are doing everything possible to increase the profile of the opportunities in agriculture and especially with young people. Often, a youngster at 14 or someone leaving school at 16 doesn’t know that there are really good jobs out there. What they do know is that there are very few jobs out there.

“Unfortunately, one of the problems is that courses offered for 14 to 16-year-olds do not contribute to the national school target, therefore, there is less reason for schools to send youngsters to Easton. It has been a really important part of our recruitment.

“It was a terrific opportunity to get hold of skilled and technologically enabled youngsters who want a challenging and exciting career.

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“In agriculture there are huge opportunities and great employment chances. All we’re trying to do, wherever we can, is to bring young people into Easton and also support farmers to take young people onto farms through events including Open Farm Sunday and lambing days. They might be a bit quirky, but they get youngsters in at the sharp end and show them real opportunities.”

Mr Bound said that the industry should consider changing some of its terminology. “We don’t have farm workers anymore. We have hi-tech multi-skilled people who need to make decisions on the hoof and use IT. It is not a ‘farmworkers’ job. I feel we almost need to invent a new title for the people who sit on a tractor seat because there are few, if any, industries with agriculture’s multi-skilled approach. Can you drive a tractor with a trailer? Can you drive a crop sprayer? Can you calibrate it? And drive a combine harvester tomorrow? It is part and parcel of agriculture and machinery and right through to fruit production and production horticulture. This is really high-tech.

“Someone driving a £400,000 sugar beet harvester or a £200,000 combine needs a lot of skills,” he added.

As a result, Easton’s team of agricultural lecturers has been supporting the Norfolk YFC’s Countrysiders half-term holiday training scheme. “Getting Countrysiders to drive tractors and look after cattle at the college’s dairy helps to keep the message flowing,” said Mr Bound.

Now the college plans to enlist the backing of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association and the Suffolk Agricultural Association to make a “combined assault” on this challenge.

“Industry is desperate for these people.

“We’ve got to find a way to make it happen,” said Mr Bound.