Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton has rejected calls for a GCSE in agriculture, suggesting MPs should go out to schools to highlight existing opportunities for learning about food production.
Ms Milton made the remarks during a parliamentary debate on the subject sponsored by Julian Sturdy, MP for York Outer.
Despite acknowledging a tendency for technical education to be urban-focused, the Minister claimed pupils could already get a good grounding in core subjects which would give them the knowledge to go on and run a rural business.
“A number of subjects taught at key stage 4 and earlier include some core knowledge about food production and the environment”, said Ms Milton.
“In geography, for instance, pupils are expected to learn about changing weather, climate change, global eco-systems, biodiversity and resources, including an overview of how humans use, modify and change those eco-systems and environments in order to obtain food, energy and water.
“In the nutrition GCSE, pupils are required to understand the economic, environmental and socio-cultural influences on food availability.
“Schools can also do outdoor learning, and there is a certain amount of freedom, which many schools use.
“To some extent, it is in the hands of hon. Members to go out into their schools to highlight the opportunities which exist.”
But Mr Sturdy said introducing an Agriculture GCSE would be a useful way to make school pupils aware of the technological developments and ‘exciting scientific advances’ happening in farming.
“Agriculture is being, and will be, transformed by the fourth industrial revolution”, he added.
“It is important to alert pupils and parents to the option of pursuing a career in a high-tech, high-skill industry.
“School leavers entering the farming sector in the next few years could expect to use GPS technology to harvest wheat, to use driverless tractors, to use drones to deliver herbicides to weeds on a precision basis, to grow wheat with nitrogen-fixing bacteria and to use other new technologies that will drive up animal welfare, such as robotic milking parlours.
“We should be trying to fire the imaginations of our young people by engaging them in the classroom with such examples as soon as possible, just as we try to inspire pupils with the achievements of British scientists and astronauts and the richness of British cultural and literary achievements in their science and English GCSE courses.”