The Agric Diploma Minefield??

This blog started as an article on an American phenomenon called national Teach Ag Day, which is & I quote :National Teach Ag Day is a day to celebrate school-based agricultural education and to encourage agricultural education advocates, especially current agricultural educators to share with others the great career opportunities in agricultural education. (National Teach Ag Day)

I thought this would be a great concept to look at in the UK, however within the introduction it made me realise that Agricultural Education has changed such a lot over the last few years that perhaps I should first blog about the current position of Ag-Ed in the UK.

 Many of those who read these blogs & who are of ‘a certain age’ may have well have gone to a County Agricultural College at the start of their working career or you may have gone on to University  similarly there will also be many who did not go to Ag College  at all and went straight to University for your Ag-Ed. & so  for the purposes of clarity I include the fine organisation of Harper Adams as a University.

 Crucially to get onto these courses at Agricultural College the students required at least one years experience on farm AND had at least one year’s day-release training. Many of us will remember a day off work sitting in a village hall or a scout hut receiving education from a newly qualified, or long in the tooth lecturer –our new gods!

At Further Education (F.E.)  level  we had the single year qualifications – National Certificates, Advanced National Certificates, Higher National Certificates each with City and Guilds. Many of these students developed onto the Diploma tier  e.g. to the Ordinary National Diplomas, Higher National Diplomas with BTEC. NCA was often the starting point, & you were considered to be more practically orientated than the OND route. In time the Ordinary National Diploma became the National Diplomas (NDA) because the prefix of ordinary was, quite rightly, considered to be incorrect.

Crucially these courses will have had a compulsory one year’s work experience working in the industry – usually on farms. Having a Diploma of whatever nomenclature was fairly clear – you had received a good education from a respected College where you will have learned the practical skills required to work in agriculture. 

 The picture now is less clear and we now have

  • Level 2 Diplomas in Agriculture, (which can be equated to the old NCA)
  •  Level 3 Subsidiary Diplomas in Agriculture,
  •  Level 3 Diplomas in Agriculture,
  • Level 3 Extended Diplomas in Agriculture,(the old OND/NDA)
  • Work based Learning Diplomas in Agriculture,(the old day release system)

So every student is leaving College with a Diploma in Ag-Ed, of one level or another. It is important that we are aware which level we are talking about when comparing Diplomas of today with those of yesteryear. As a rule of thumb and Level 3 Extended Diploma in Agriculture is approximately equitable with an OND or NDA of previous eras.

At Higher Education level (H.E.) the HND has also passed into the midst’s of time and these have largely been replaced by Foundation Degree in Science (FDSc),  putting Colleges into partnership with University establishments. The Higher Education element of agricultural education is largely delivered by Universities such as Aberystwyth, Newcastle or Nottingham and University Colleges such as the widely respected Harper Adams University College, who also ratify the FDSc delivered by many FE ‘Land Based’ Colleges. They of course deliver a wide range of qualifications in agriculture, with several options and specialism’s studied alongside the agric element. The farm managers, the salesmen and women, the technicians and research scientists come via this route. We all know what Universities supply, so I make no apology for concentrating on FE provision.

Crucially the FE students now come to College at aged 16, straight out of school, and if they do not come from family farming backgrounds their experience is fairly limited.  The quality of school education is debated at length each year when GCSE results are published, & I do not wish to add to the debate at this point.  I would however add that after 9 years of schooling Agric Lecturers have to develop the Maths, English and IT skills of these learners &  so deliver Functional Skills in these subjects.

The FE agricultural qualifications have also changed, being far more controlled by central bodies and very much constrained by a national curriculum where the subjects and content delivered is far more prescribed. Crucially the sandwich year element has also gone having been replaced by a 6 week work experience element. As a result these students, sorry we must now refer to them as learners, are coming to College approximately 18 months younger and less experienced than their counterparts of 20 years ago.  Similarly they are leaving College less experienced than we may have been, but they are keen, they are passionate and they are all willing to learn. Many of these students will consider going into H.E. and study for their degrees.

The majority of old FE County Colleges have either shut down, or have been ‘merged’ with local 6th Form Colleges, or their agricultural education departments have shrunk to negligible levels. The remaining colleges are no longer Agricultural Colleges, as they are dependent on the much wider delivery of Land Based studies Animal Management, Equine, Motor Vehicles etc and are called Land Based Colleges.

So the old Agricultural College system is still out there developing the next generation farm workers and agriculturalists.   Farming in particular will be at the forefront of the new era where growing more of our food & fuels will be essential and the FE College system is developing the nex-gen of agriculturalists ready to step unto the breach. 

 Numbers of Agricultural learners reduced dramatically over the last 10-15 years but several ‘Ag Colleges’ have seen a resurgence over the last 4 years. My dept at the Walford Campus of Walford & North Shropshire College is one of those seeing a resurgence. We currently have over 100 pure agricultural students studying either full-time or apprenticeships.
These students, (sod it I prefer this term) have developed their agricultural knowledge & skills and crucially as part of their studies need to have experience working on farms, as a result these students have developed the most important skill of all – that of Employability.
Next summer we will be looking for summer placements for 35 first year students. If you are looking for a student and can help these young people,  please get in touch. Please bear in mind that they are younger and a bit wet behind the ear so may need a bit more time to get into the swing of work. In time they will reward you in more ways than you may realise.

I know this has been a long piece, but thanks for reading.



2 thoughts on “The Agric Diploma Minefield??

  1. Nice one Mark……………. could add my own blog re the work based route, which to be honest isn’t the same as the old C&G day release, I spend a lot of time explaining this to employers. Quite agree with the “challenges” of Functional Skills. The biggest issue for the WB route is the Apprentice Framework . This comprises assignments taken “off the shelf” of FT courses – try “selling ” them to learners who shyed away from the college route to avoid assignments etc.

  2. I came across your hard work via Alan Spedding RuSource today. I just wish i had the diligance to undertake activity such as yours Mark. I have an attention span of a gnat, which is a lot worse now I am of a certain age.

    I am a counsel member of the Institute of Agricultural management and we have a meeting of lecturers which will be at Reading in April 2013. Be good if you could get along. For even if FE is a moving feast the thing is folks don’t seem to get out much these days, to tied down by their curriculum efficiencies to undertake cpd.

    Also ping through a lniked in ting.

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