Horticulture needs to be rebranded and needs to be introduced into the curriculum, said witnesses today to the Horticultural Sector Committee.
In the latest of a series of evidence sessions so far into the challenges, opportunities and risks faced by the horticultural sector, the committee was told that horticulture “needs a rebrand throughout the entire education system.”
Lilidh Matthews, treasurer of the Young People in Horticulture Association, said that there are “a lot of perceptions around horticulture as a career that aren’t valid and that needs to be changed throughout the education system, all the way up to the point from where you get your qualification.”
Joined by influencer Lee Connelly – or the Skinny Jean Gardener, who has been focusing on introducing gardening to primary schools – and Grow2Know founder Tayshan Hayden-Smith, Matthews said there is a “huge gap” between when you touch point with horticulture around five years’ old to when you would embark on a career. “It escapes secondary school altogether until you get to the point where you can get a formalised qualification at A Level or equivalent through the other schemes.”
The introduction of T Levels – the new two-year courses being gradually rolled out which are equivalent to three A Levels, with courses on agriculture, land management and production to be introduced this September – “are going to be really good for people more academically minded” but ‘there are still a lot of barriers,” says Matthews. “It’s hard to find these qualifications and it’s hard to find out where they come from in different places.”
Hayden-Smith added that there is a misperception about gardening that needs to be addressed. As a semi-professional footballer who began ‘guerilla gardening’ after the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower which he lives beneath, Hayden-Smith said he felt embarrassed at first as he wasn’t a “typical gardener.” Horticulture can be seen as “quite unattainable, quite unachievable” to teenagers, in particular those from deprived backgrounds. He raised the need for more relatable role models in the sector.
All three witnesses said that horticulture needs to be added into the curriculum to raise awareness of it at an early age. “The easiest way of getting people learning is getting it into the curriculum,” said Connelly. He explained it would then be in teachers’ training and schools wouldn’t be relying on one passionate teacher to ensure it gets taught.
Hayden-Smith added that the government also needs to consider widening access to green space, whilst Matthews asked for the Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture’s scheme to include ornamental horticulture to “help to show immediate career progression.”