Diploma will boost horticulture's image

That close to 100 schools and colleges across England have applied to offer a new diploma in environmental and land-based studies for 14- to 19-year-olds is good news for horticulture.

The diploma, whose development is being led by land-based skills body Lantra, will form part of the first tranche of the new qualifications to be introduced over the next three years in what is billed as the most significant development in the country's education system since the introduction of GCSEs.

Applications from schools interested in offering this and other diplomas closed in December - and while results won't be announced until next month, Lantra reports that many more schools than expected have applied to offer the new qualification.

This strong and early interest from schools is particularly welcome given the findings of recent research into the profile of the horticulture industry within schools, carried out on behalf of the cross-industry Green Skills steering group.

While confirming that horticulture's profile among young people was either poor or non-existent, the Green Skills research completed last year made it clear that the low profile of the sector was not necessarily a failing of the horticulture industry alone.

The problem that came across very clearly was that the places and people students were most likely to be influenced by when considering a career - their school, favourite teachers or in-school careers advisers - had no links to the industry, due to the complete absence of horticulture anywhere in the national curriculum.

Teachers interviewed at the time anticipated that the introduction of the environmental and land-based studies diploma to schools by 2013 could have a real impact on overall awareness of horticulture studies among students. The positive response from schools themselves to the diploma can only enhance this.

So far, so good. There remains much work to be done on the detail of the qualification but, one way or another, employers will need to get involved. "This represents a massive opportunity for horticultural employers to encourage young people into the sector," said diploma adviser Martin Callow. He's right. Be ready to open your doors.

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