Crafting Careers in Agriculture with Scott Graham from Barker College

Continuing our Crafting Careers in Agriculture series in this blog post we reach out to our thought leaders in the education sector

High school students from urban areas may think they have little connection to agriculture, but Scott Graham, Head of Agriculture at Barker College in Sydney, is not only challenging that belief but spearheading a revolution in the way the subject is taught, leading to a greater uptake of ag-related courses at university.

In January 2021 the Sydney Morning Herald analysed the 2020 HSC results and identified Barker College as an emerging centre for agriculture. Much of this emergence is credited to Scott who commenced work at Barker College in 2010 when 120 students studied agriculture in Years 9 to 12. This year Scott, and his team of five teachers, will oversee 365 students, 95 of whom will sit agriculture in the HSC.

Growing up in Sydney Scott is not from an agricultural background but was introduced to the subject at high school, where it was compulsory in Years 7 and 8.

“I may not have chosen agriculture otherwise [if it wasn’t compulsory] but I really enjoyed it and when it was voluntary from Year 9 onwards I continued and did it for the HSC in Year 12,” he says.

Scott Graham – Head of Agriculture at Barker College

With an interest in science and biology Scott chose to study agricultural science at Sydney University and in 2010 joined Barker, even though enrolment numbers meant he was only teaching three classes of agriculture, compared to a teacher’s full load of five classes. But agriculture at Barker was changing.

“We’ve positioned agriculture as a science in the same way as chemistry or biology, and by making it more academic have attracted the more academically talented students. We also try to make it relevant to their lives. Even if they are not going into agriculture [as a career] they are still going to consume food every day and need to know about it as much as anyone else. There is plenty of talk about how urban people are disconnected from the food supply chain and as interest from kids and their parents grows we need to promote agriculture in the right way. But, actually getting students interested is easy. One of our main issues is getting agricultural teachers as there is a severe shortage across Australia,” Scott says.

Most schools teaching agriculture will have a led-steer and show program but not at Barker College.

“I think this is an old image of agriculture and probably the completely wrong way around. I think if we started showing animals our numbers would drop because our image would change. Agriculture is not necessarily about being a farmer; only 18% of jobs in agriculture are on-farm,” he says.

Scott is researching this new way of teaching with a PhD through Charles Sturt University, looking at how to increase enrolments in agriculture at secondary schools and consequently increase agriculture enrolments at university. He believes the key is high school.

“You’re never going to fill jobs and positions at university if students don’t study agriculture at school and we need to capitalise on this with our students from Year 9 onwards.”

This changing approach to teaching agriculture is reaping rewards. Of the 1300 students sitting agriculture in the HSC across NSW in 2021, Barker College has 95 or over 7% of the total in one school. Of these Scott estimates 30% will go on to study an agriculture-related degree at university and become part of the 82% of people who work off-farm in the food and fibre supply chain.

Crafting a career in agriculture has never looked so good.

And how did Scott find his way into agriculture?

Scott grew up in Sydney with no exposure to agriculture until it was a compulsory subject in Years 7 and 8 of high school.

“I may not have chosen agriculture otherwise, but I really enjoyed it and when it was voluntary from Year 9 onwards, I continued and did it for the HSC in Year 12.”

With an interest in science and biology Scott chose to study agricultural science at Sydney University and in 2010 joined Barker College where he is now Head Teacher of Agriculture.

Visit Barker College Agriculture YouTube channel here

Connect with Scott on LinkedIn

Scott interviews three of his past students who studied food and agribusiness at Sydney University and who are now working in varied agricultural-related fields in urban environments. Watch the video here.

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