Raising horticulture's profile with students

"My uncle's a self-employed gardener working in big gardens, he's paid a lot, and he's one of the happiest people I know."

A rare moment of light in an otherwise blank or confused picture of how "horticulture" is defined among teenagers - a picture unearthed during research for the cross-industry Green Skills initiative (see news, p3).

The research, carried out by E3 Marketing on behalf of the Green Skills steering group, which includes the RHS, HTA, English Heritage, National Trust, City of London Corporation, Eden Project, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and CABE Space, confirms what we already suspected - that the profile of horticulture among young people is either virtually non-existent or poor.

But what is also clear from the research is that this is not necessarily a failing of the horticulture industry. After all, if enthusiasm and passion are the best ways of selling a career, horticulture should win hands down.

The real problem - and this comes across very clearly in the research - is that the places and people young people are most likely to be influenced by when considering a career - their school, favourite teachers or in-school careers advisers - have no link to the industry, thanks to the complete absence of horticulture anywhere in the national curriculum.

The researchers tell an interesting story of one school where a significant group of children indicated an interest in veterinary work. This was almost certainly a result of their teacher's enthusiasm for zoology and animal care. Meanwhile, children whose school curriculum included rural studies were, as you would expect, better informed about the possible range of work within horticulture.

The good news is that teachers interviewed expect the introduction of the environmental and land-based studies diploma into secondary schools by 2013 could have a real impact on overall awareness among their students of horticulture studies. Coupled with the plans the Green Skills steering group has to build a web-based careers resource for young people, the opportunity to begin to turn around horticulture's invisibility could be at hand.

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