On the back of hoovering up thousands of acres of prime agricultural land has Sir James Dyson sliced food growing lessons out of the national curriculum? That’s the fear of Unite’s Charlie Clutterbuck and Garden Organic, the UK's leading organic growing charity. If the inventor is successful the fear is he could be stopping children develop the horticultural skills the country so desperately requires in the future.
Last year Garden Organic was one of 20 organisations that jointly published a report claiming there were health benefits for children who learned to grow their own fruit and vegetables. The report also claimed that food growing could help children develop employment skills. Which might just be good news considering the Royal Agricultural Society estimates the UK will need 60,000 new farming recruits over the next ten years, whilst graduates from agricultural courses enjoy exceptionally high employment rates.
Garden Organic’s views seemed to have the Department for Education’s (DfE) support when its draft design and technology curriculum said pupils should be taught skills to “cultivate plants for practical purposes”. The draft also advised that pupils should “understand food and nutrition.”
Community campaigners were convinced horticulture and cookery would be added to the national curriculum from 2014. But in April the influential inventor Sir James Dyson used the consultation period to criticise the proposals.
He said: “Design and technology should be the subject where mathematical brainboxes
and science whizzkids turn their bright ideas into useful products rather than bringing together cookery, construction and horticulture. This new curriculum will not inspire the invention and engineers Britain so desperately needs.”
The DfE has been unwilling to say if food growing has remained on the new curriculum that will be announced in August.
Myles Bremner, chief executive of Garden Organic, admitted: “I am concerned but I see this as a win-win in which growing food gives children the opportunities of finding out about design and technology.
“To feed a population with fruit and vegetables requires a range of innovative engineering designs to create, for example, efficient combine harvesters.
We also need soil scientists, and science and technology is going to play an important role in ensuring Britain can take mitigating action against climate change. Engineering, cooking and food growing are all inter-connected.”
Dyson is best known for his invention of the bagless vacuum cleaner but caused controversy in 2002 when he moved his manufacturing plant to Malaysia. He is estimated to be worth £1.5 billion, and earlier this year spent £150 million on 17,000 acres of agricultural farmland in Lincolnshire. According to local parish newspaper this is ‘a long term investment with future development likely to be limited to chicken sheds and polytunnels.”
Dyson’s stance has drawn criticism from Unite’s agricultural science expert Charlie Clutterbuck.
“Wealthy investors have been buying farmland because it doesn’t incur inheritance tax and English farmland has now reached a record high of £9,100 per acre,” he said. “Having made his name using design and technology skills on everyday household items then why doesn’t he turn those skills to food and farming?”
The National Union of Teachers supports food growing in schools. Deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Learning about food technology and nutrition would make for good, practical features of any curriculum.”
However, Courtney questioned the likely impact of inclusion since more than half of Britain’s secondary schools are now free to ignore the national curriculum due to their academy status.