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Teachers and careers advisors need more agri-food knowledge

Posted 27 May 2015

Christina Cowell

Christina Cowell

Helping secondary school teachers and careers advisors to understand the opportunities available within the agri-food sector is key to encouraging students to choose a career within the industry, suggests research conducted by a Harper Adams University student.

Christina Cowell surveyed both teachers and careers advisors in secondary schools across the UK to establish their level of understanding of agriculture and what potential impact this has on students.

She found that although most surveyed had little or no experience of the sector, more than 80% believe that agriculture offers a worthwhile career for both academic and vocational-minded students.

22-year-old Christina from Preston in Lancashire said: “If a school has visited a farm, it doubles the chances of advisors and teachers discussing careers within the agri-food sector. Although sadly, half of the schools surveyed had never visited a farm.

“Farm visits are extremely important as they expose students to agriculture and can potentially influence their career choices. National events such as Open Farm Sunday and initiatives such as Bright Crop certainly help with this.”

Christina found that one reason for why schools don’t visit farms is because it has never been suggested or given as an option.

She also assessed whether there is a difference in perception of agricultural careers between urban and rural school advisors, finding that there is no significant difference between the two groups. The stereotype that young people from rural areas have a higher perception than those from urban areas was found to be untrue.

Christina, who is in the final year of her BSc (Hons) Agriculture degree, conducted the research for her dissertation project. She said: “At the moment, teachers and careers advisors seem to find most of their information about general careers from the internet.

“But specific information about the agri-food sector comes from their own prior knowledge, which is concerning seeing as they have little or no knowledge. Nearly 90% had never received any training related to agri-food careers.

“Even so, it is encouraging that 95% of those surveyed recognise that the sector offers a worthwhile career, with around 84% believing that it suits those interested in either academic or vocational careers.

“Although my research stresses the value of farm visits, it is important to understand that agriculture goes far beyond the farm, offering a wide variety of rewarding careers.”

Christina hopes to pursue a career within schools liaison or outreach, that will enable her to pass on her knowledge and passion for agriculture to the next generation.

During her time at Harper Adams she has worked as a student ambassador during open days and as a mentor in science lessons at a local school.

But beyond her involvement with the public, she also has strong, practical knowledge and experience of the agricultural industry – including working for a 1000-head dairy farm for her placement year. At home she helps on her step dad’s 600-cow dairy farm and is a member of professional development register, Dairy Pro.

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