Farming GCSEs to be scrapped

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The Independent Online

Agriculture is no longer to be studied in British schools. The industry that produces much of our food, struggling with massive structural changes, bolstered by hundreds of millions in subsidies, and trying to deal with the revolutionary technologies of GM, is to be scrapped from GCSE exams.

Around 600 students take the qualification in agriculture and horticulture every year but this is not enough for the Government's advisers who want to remove the subject. The National Farmers Union has promised to intervene with ministers on behalf of the GCSE, describing its loss as a further blow to the industry.

"Scrapping it would be an incredibly destructive move," said Garry Weedon, head of science and farm unit manager at West Somerset Community College in Minehead, the only school in 680 square miles of remote countryside. His pupils raise cattle and pigs, and keep a flock of sheep that regularly appears in local shows.

"The course gives the pupils an academic qualification which is practically based, extremely relevant and important to their lives."

The Government's exams quango, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, is reviewing all 50 GCSE subjects to provide a better match with the national curriculum. The examination boards and teachers of agriculture expect their subject to be replaced with a vocational equivalent.

Supporters believe a GCSE has significantly more status with pupils and their families. A spokeswoman for the NFU promised to campaign for the course. "We'd be very concerned if students were deprived of taking an agriculture based GCSE exam," she said.

"This type of exam is a valuable foundation for anyone who wants to enter the industry, particularly in areas with many farms or horticultural units. We also believe it is important to provide students with an opportunity to learn about food."

The Country Landowners Association pointed out that the majority of British pupils already know very little about farming.