Pre-16s education ‘not geared up to produce next generation of farmers’

Dr Tony Wilson and Andrew Farley, Easton and Otley College

Dr Tony Wilson and Andrew Farley, Easton and Otley College - Credit: Archant

The pre-16s education system is not being geared up to produce the next generation of land-based professionals, college lecturers have warned.

Easton and Otley College lecturers fear that policies adopted by the government, including new performance measures, are having an adverse effect on course recruitment to land-based courses, and the skillset of the UK’s future generations of agricultural professionals and workers.

Schools partnership manager Andrew Farley explained that the Government’s new performance measure for schools, Progress 8, did not include a land-based option among the courses it measures performance against, other than one GCSE in environment and land-based science which was being removed. That made those courses less attractive to schools, he argued.

“Schools are free to teach whatever they like but if they don’t use a qualification in the formula it doesn’t count in the formula,” he said. “Currently, land-based courses aren’t considered high value enough to be counted.”

Awarding bodies were currently developing some qualifications which they hope will count on the formula, he said, but while hair and beauty was given a high value, agriculture wasn’t. There are currently five hair and beauty qualifications for 14 to 16-year-olds, but the Department for Education said existing land-based vocational qualification weren’t meeting its tough new standards.

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“There’s a variety of reasons. It could be purely a numbers game - the fact that the courses where they have high volumes they put resources in. Often the courses that don’t have the same high volume are nonetheless essential. We are talking about feeding the nation and how important is that?” said Mr Farley.

Easton and Otley currently has 430 key stage 4 pupils aged 13 to 16, who attend one day a week on a “very buoyant” programme, and are taught everything from engineering to agriculture to animal care horse care and a variety of land-based qualifications.

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“The schools we work with put their students first, despite the fact they don’t count on the performance measures,” he said.

“We have about 40 15-year-olds studying countryside and environment here at Easton and Otley, but it may not count on the performance table - it doesn’t meet the government’s complex formula as to what is high value.”

Dr Tony Wilson, operations manager for the Centre for Contemporary Agriculture and a lecturer in agriculture in the higher education department at Easton and Otley, added that the English baccalaureate, which is based around English, maths, a science, a language and a humanity, was targeting the very brightest and most academic pupils, but it lacked a practical component.

“About 50% of students will fall into that bracket. That poses a problem for us becuase the English Baccalaureate really doesn’t have a direct correlation with agriculture,” he said.

Agriculture needed bright, intelligent people who were also practically competent. The UK was “lagging behind” in certain practical skills because of the English baccalaureate and its constraints, he argued.

“They could find agriculture an excellent career choice, but practical competence needs to be learned at an early age,” he said.

“You take a surgeon and you ask a surgeon are you practical, they would answer yes. They are both. A farmer is exactly the same. the best farmers are really bright, really sharp, and are practically very good as well. If you are cutting out agriculture’s access to really bright people from the starts you are struggling to get the really bright people out there.”

“It’s a double whammy,” he added. “You make your choices as you go along. Your experiences mould you. If you don’t have that wide base at the bottom, you lose the opportunity.”

A Department for Education spokesperson pointed out that there are five BTECs in land-based technology as well as 92 further qualifications in agriculture, horticulture and animal care which are recognised in the league tables at age 16-19.

“Our plan for education will ensure every young person can succeed in today’s jobs market. That is why we are overhauling vocational education to only recognise courses that lead directly to further study, training or employment. And our plans to introduce a stronger practical element to technical qualifications will bring long-term benefits to the food and farming industry.

“Existing land-based vocational qualifications did not meet our tough new standards. We are working with exam boards and employers to make sure that high quality qualifications are developed in all sectors – once a land-based qualification for 14 year-olds is developed that better prepares young people to succeed in the workplace it will be included in league tables.”

In June 2014, Ofqual consulted on discontinuing, from 2016, Environment and Land Based Science GCSE because of overlap with the reformed science GCSE. A final decision will be taken by it in due course.

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