​​Success of pilot agriculture programme brings new opportunities to Highland schools

Monday, 26th August 2019

Nairn Academy welcomed Deputy First Minister John Swinney today (Wednesday 21 August) to share how efforts to promote Scotland’s food and drink industry have led to far-reaching opportunities for the region.  

As part of his role as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Mr Swinney discovered how the school is working with industry partners to get more young people into the farming, food and drink sectors, as the average age of the British farmer reaches 60.

Despite the plentiful opportunities in the sector, relatively few young people have chosen it as a career path in recent years. To remedy this, Nairn Academy has forged a first-of-its-kind partnership with Farmer Jones Academy, an initiative set up by Richard Jones, a successful farmer and ex-journalist, along with Sarah Mackenzie, who both held a passion for opening up the world of farming to the next generation.

The Academy, which had a successful pilot in the 2018/19 school year, introduced S4-S6 pupils to farming through a mixed programme of practical growing and food production classes, as well as business lessons on how to then market and sell them. Poly tunnels were installed for pupils to tend to fruit and vegetables, with products going on to be branded and sold.

Sarah Abenheimer, Deputy Rector at Nairn Academy said: “Working with the Farmer Jones Academy has allowed us to widen our curriculum, adding more varied options and qualifications relevant to local employers.  It has been a springboard for sustainability, encouraging us to make new links.  We are now also working with the School of Forestry and Gordon Timber to run a new Rural Skills course, with Inverness College UHI, on developing Professional Cookery courses and have written some brand new courses with them meaning pupils can gain accreditation for wider achievement.  We have developed partnerships with local community groups such as Green Hive who have facilitated planting our school orchard. Pupils enjoy working in realistic work settings and learning from a wider range of professionals and community members.”

The success of the programme led to Farmer Jones Academy, with the support of Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) Inverness & Central Highland, Skills Development Scotland and Food and Drink Federation Scotland, to successfully bid for 40 Foundation Apprenticeships in Food and Drink Technology to be made available in the Highlands.

The Apprenticeships are open to senior pupils, and will be delivered in five schools across the region. They will support the Scottish Government’s aim of doubling the size of the food and drink industry to £30bn within 10 years, with younger pupils offered gateway courses.

To carry out the training, Farmer Jones Academy has become an SQA Accredited Centre, having successfully recruited experienced trainers and verifiers.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Education should prepare young people to enter the world of work, supporting businesses across the country with the skills they are seeking. The approach taken by the Farmer Jones Academy is an exemplar of how collaboration between schools and industry can open up new routes to success for young people.”

Richard Jones said: “Farmer Jones Academy is delighted to have received so much invaluable support from Nairn Academy over the past 18 months as we have developed our unique partnership. We also look forward to opening up our training to younger pupils as well as school leavers who are at risk of not reaching a positive destination. Along with my business partner, Sarah Mackenzie and also our board of directors, we believe that we can build on this initial success in the Highlands and take the programme to the remainder of Scotland via a franchise model that we are currently developing.

“With Scotland Food and Drink aiming to double the value of the industry within 10 years, it is critical that we are able to share our passion for food and drink with young people and introduce them to the endless opportunities in this, the largest single employment sector in our amazing country.”

DYW Inverness & Central Highland programme manager Andy Maxtone said: “We’ve been huge supporters of the Farmer Jones Academy, and are really pleased that the pilot has led to new opportunities being made available to young people across the region to earn recognised qualifications in an exciting industry.

“It’s important for us to help facilitate ambitious and innovative projects as ultimately we want to make sure that young people in Nairn and across the region have the opportunities to develop their skills and go as far as their talents will take them. Providing a range of interesting and high quality ways of doing that right here in the Highlands is something that can only be good for young people and the wider community.”

In what is a fully integrated programme, the food grown by pupils is also used daily by the school’s Beach Café, set up as part of the Farmer Jones initiative. The café is operated by Highland Catering, who run the school catering services, assisted by senior pupils, giving them the opportunity to gain employability skills in a safe and relaxed environment while also providing young people with a space to socialise.