ACROSS Scotland, our children are being taken out of the schoolroom to learn a fundamental lesson – where good food comes from.

Taking Tayside as an example, we see the journey from classroom to career is rewarding, but not without its challenges. The Curriculum for Excellence encourages outdoor learning, a step away from traditional approaches which is yielding powerful results.

Jill Davie is the headteacher at Ladyloan Primary School, in Arbroath. She says: “Outside, kids are learning without even realising it. It’s excellent for teachers too, we get to teach creatively across subjects. There are so many opportunities to use land-based the curriculum and the children learn so much while also developing a sense of personal responsibility and building self-esteem.”

It all began when P7 pupils began exploring where their food came from. Davie said: “We took on three former battery hens. Then we set up a food bank to share the eggs, then the pupils set up a social supermarket in the school where they sold the eggs to raise the money to buy the chicken food. Now we are looking at growing our own food in a polytunnel. It really matters that we teach our kids where their food comes from and what good food tastes like.

“Sustainability is one of the most important lessons our youngsters can learn in life. There are so many careers out there in the rural sector – as farmers are struggling to find workers, it is important our youngsters see they have opportunities for careers in the agricultural sector on their doorstep.”

The SQA’s National 4 in Rural Skills means secondary school pupils can take the first step towards a career in the land-based sector.

The team at Lunan Bay Farm is providing goats for the next project the ambitious youngsters at Ladyloan are developing, as well as taking students from Dundee & Angus College to give them the hands-on skills and experience a classroom can’t teach.

Following Brexit, many farmers are desperate for staff, so it came as a shock to many in the sector when Dundee & Angus College announced it is consulting on plans to stop offering land-based courses.

Jillian McEwan, director of Lunan Bay Farm, said: “I’ve been really impressed by the students who have been coming along to the farm. I would hope this consultation would be used as an exercise to revamp courses to tailor the teaching to reflect the different routes people are taking into agriculture, from school leavers to mature students with a wealth of life experience.

“Kids learning rural skills at primary school could potentially end up in rural jobs – and there are more than 80 to choose from. A route from school through college onto the land is an essential part of growing the farmers of tomorrow.”

The Scottish Government has established a commission for land-based learning, with a remit to undertake a root and branch review of learning in Scotland’s land-basedand aquaculture sectors – from early years to adulthood – providing opportunities and qualifications through education and apprenticeships.

Gail Robertson is the group manager of Ringlink, an agricultural co-operative. She is part of the body advising the government and is keen to encourage people to come forward and take advantage of the training opportunities: Robertson said: “We do a land-based skills pre-apprenticeship programme. An important part of that is making sure under-18s have the necessary health and safety training they need before they set foot on a farm. There are so many opportunities, skills, and potential for very diverse careers in the land-based sector.

“Dundee & Angus College has been very helpful in the past and it does seem bizarre that they are looking at cutting these courses at a time when farmers are crying out for a trained workforce.”

Peter Beattie is an agricultural lecturer at Dundee & Angus College. He thinks we are seeing a “wake-up call” for the industry to develop more connections between schools, colleges, and careers.

He said: “We need to fill our classes with keen students who have a career path ahead of them.

“The industry has a responsibility to advocate for agricultural skills and we need schools to understand the amazing potential their pupils can have in agriculture.”

We are reaching that time of year when school leavers are looking at their options, when adults looking to retrain are considering new avenues.

There can be few jobs more important than those we see in modern agriculture which address the climate emergency while growing healthy food on biodiverse farms.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign