England should introduce a GCSE in agriculture to give young people a “real opportunity” as Brexit goes ahead, a Tory MP has said.
Julian Sturdy warned the age of the farming workforce was ever increasing while BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson had called for the introduction of a GCSE in agriculture, pointing out GCSEs in religious studies and business as comparable examples.
Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on the introduction of an agriculture GCSE this morning, Mr Sturdy said: "Given the significance of agriculture for our economy, environment and society, I firmly believe that the education system should ensure that the younger generation are able to flourish in this sector and it should give them the option of doing so at the earliest possible opportunity through the offering of an agricultural GCSE in schools across England and Wales."
Northern Ireland, Mr Sturdy argued, had a GCSE in agriculture so a model existed to teach the subject and would be "straightforward" for the government to do.
Farming would be at the forefront of unfolding technological development and scientific advancement, he said, and a GCSE level option would be a useful way of alerting pupils to those opportunities.
Mr Sturdy added: "School leavers entering the farming sector in the next few years could expect to use GPS technology to harvest wheat, driverless tractors, drones to deliver herbicides to weeds on a precision basis, grow wheat with nitrogen fixing bacteria and new technologies that could drive up animal welfare such as robotic milking parlours."
The York Outer MP said: "As Brexit goes forward now is the time where we need to be pushing the agricultural boundaries to new levels, but to do that we are going to need the skill base for the future and we have to enthuse young people within that and I think a GCSE in agriculture gives (us) a real opportunity to do that."
Apprenticeships minister Anne Milton said a number of subjects taught at key stage 4 included some core knowledge about food production and the environment, including in geography, science and nutrition.
She said: "I suspect this won't be enough to satisfy (him)... but material in the core (reform) subjects provides a general background, that important grounding in some of the knowledge needed to go on and run a business."
Schools also provided outdoor learning she added with more than 100 schools with farms in the UK.
T-levels, providing technical education, would start in 2020, she added, with the agriculture, environment and animal care route rolled out in the second phase with the content being decided by employers and professionals through consultation.