Opinion: Education must prepare youth for real world

“Education, education, education” – the cornerstone of the Blair manifesto back in 2007 still resonates with us all. A good education is essential, whether it be academic or practical. Young people need choices and great teachers.

The majority of teachers, I feel, are dedicated and determined to do the best for their children, although we do see widely different styles of teaching when school groups visit the farm.

Most schools groups who visit us throughout the summer and autumn terms are well organised, there is definitely one person in charge and the children are well behaved and engaged. The minority of schools are not. These children are left to run wild, have few manners and the teachers stand around looking completely disengaged.

The trouble with education is that, as parents, we often feel powerless to change a situation within a school. I have been accused by my youngest of embarrassing her by going into school and trying to sort out a problem, yet her friends have told her they wish their mums were more like me, in that they cared enough to make a fuss. You just can’t win.

I think children are becoming more assertive with adults. It won’t be long before the students at universities are demanding more contact time/quality teaching for their £13,000/year.

My daughter’s course at Birmingham City (a former polytechnic) demanded work experience as part of her final grade – the qualifying amount increased over the three years. When she finally emerged triumphant, her CV was impressive.

In contrast, my son, at Newcastle University, didn’t have the same “encouragement” in this respect.

Work experience gives young people an idea of what they may want (or not want) to do, plus a taster of the real world.

Almost the opposite is true with regards to our farming apprentice, Josh, who has now been studying one day a week at our local agricultural college for the past three years.

He has been working with us for four days a week and has done really well, but I am astounded about how little regard generally there seems to be towards job-centred qualifications at colleges.

We have put him through his chainsaw, sprayer, trailer pulling, forklift and first aid courses, among others.

These have certainly helped us and him and we plan to keep him here when he finishes this year. But if we were not planning to keep him, would we have paid for all those courses so that he could then be more employable by someone else?

Surely it is the job of agricultural colleges to ensure students have as many certified skills as possible?

Education about food and farming over the past 12 years has definitely improved in schools. However, last week Cameron, our trail manager, was taking a group of children around and was astounded that many of them had never seen a live sheep. In fact, one even asked “what’s that?”

Their teacher told him that many children have never left the street in which they live – the school is at the end of the road. So sad.

Open Farm Sunday on 7 June should be an event to change all that. Get involved, I urge you. Managed by Leaf (Linking Environment And Farming), it’s our industry’s national open day.

If you do not want to open your own farm up or you simply have no time to organise an event,  why not offer to help at another farm? Take along a big machine and tell people all about it – that is what you all discuss down the pub anyway.

Or if you grow a crop and are especially proud, set up a table, bring some grain to mill and a selection of end products and tell the story. It needn’t be complicated, but as I told my son, who refused to vote in the election, if you don’t tell the general public what we farmers do, don’t complain if they don’t support farming. Put up, or shut up.

The time demands on any farming family are truly great, but every now and then, Andrew and I get the chance to run away, especially if I can pretend to myself that it is all about the business. A few weeks ago we headed down to the big smoke.

Andrew and I were having lunch in Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge (I wanted to have a nose at their café) before Andrew met up with his year from the Worshipful Company of Farmers course group to attend the annual dinner. The young girl on the table next to us was drinking a cup of “bubble tea”, the latest wannabe craze supplied by the drinks industry.

The drink consists of coloured sweet tea with what looks like frogs’ spawn “bubbles” of a different colour at the bottom.

As we were leaving, I stopped and asked her and her little brother what it was like. She said that it was absolutely delicious and that the bubbles at the bottom were a different flavour to the main drink. I asked her what the bubbles were like and she said “they burst in your mouth, just like caviar”.

All parties in the election mentioned economic inequality. This did it for me.

Sally Jackson

Sally and husband Andrew farm 364ha just outside Scunthorpe in north Lincolnshire. They have a farm shop, The Pink Pig Farm (a former winner in the diversification category of the Farmers Weekly Awards), with a 90-seater café and farm trail. Sally is chairman of the Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association (Farma).

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