Technical teaching for new agricultural horizons

In 2022 I had the pleasure of leading the design of three professional development courses to support the launch of the Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care T Levels. I worked with colleagues from Landex, and their Further Education and Training partners nationally. I was astonished by the energy of those working to teach and train the next generation of agricultural professionals, and the speed with which technology and innovation are being harnessed to drive more efficient and sustainable practices within the farming sector.

Agriculture has been at the forefront of scientific and sociological change for millennia:

“Out of agriculture, cities and civilizations grew, and because crops and animals could now be farmed to meet demand, the global population rocketed—from some five million people 10,000 years ago, to more than seven billion today.” [Ref 1]

It’s agriculture – and the science and technologies that drive it – that has enabled human population growth far beyond the planet’s natural resources: the Haber-Bosch process that produces synthetic fertilizers is thought to sustain about half of the global population [Ref 2]. Sustaining a population in excess of the planet’s natural resources comes at a cost, though, and the agricultural sector will have a large part to play in the challenge of sustaining our food supply and addressing climate change.

It’s both frightening and exciting to consider the impact of agricultural technologies that will help us meet that challenge, and our role as educators in supporting it to do so. But what does that mean in practice?

1. Focussing on our professional development

To teach, we need to understand. We need to have a clear view of the new agricultural horizons that our learners will work towards and equip them to do so. We need to have current experience of the sector and relevant, up-to-date ‘technological content knowledge’ (for a refresher see the further reading below).

For example: understanding the extent that drone and sensor technologies will have on the future of agriculture is critical. In this video from the Education and Training Foundation, Donna Lindsay from Ordnance Survey talks about their development of sensor technology that can provide ‘hyper-local’ information to farmers to support precision-farming, and make an immediate impact.

Ian Clarke, Assistant Principal, Reaseheath College tell us that: “Precision farming offers a good solution to the challenges of food production allowing us to use chemicals applicators, sprays and fertiliser applications and instead of ‘blanket spray’ we can then actually target plants, utilising resource a lot better.”

A huge skills shift is taking place in the sector, and we need to communicate it to our learners. If you’re involved in the delivery of T Levels, you may be eligible to undertake a funded individual or group ‘Industry Insights’ placement through the Education & Training Foundation’s ‘T Level Professional Development’ programme (see here for more information).

2. Recognising and responding to changing skills requirements

Some of the changing technologies in agriculture, or ‘agritech’ will need new practical skills: drone-flying farmers trained not only to fly, but to fly safely, aware of the air traffic control regulations that apply. Workers in the sector will also need to, at the very least, to understand the data outputs of these new technologies, and they may also need to understand how that data is generated, processed and the increasing role that artificial intelligence is likely to play in that.

In the video above, Stephen Mariadas, Director of the South West Institute of Technology suggests that “employers, students and teachers that understand how to use big data are going to change the way we live”.

There are immediate opportunities too. These new technologies and the interest that they can excite in learners and apprentices give us the potential to:

  • attract new learners and apprentices into agriculture – a workforce in need of diversity [Ref 3]; and
  • encourage learners and professionals in agriculture to think more broadly about their skillset, and its transferability.

We need to access and utilise data sets that tell us about skills requirements and shortages that will help to inform our educational offer. We also need to ensure that the training and skills sector can support regional employers. The data from Lightcast UK is a great illustration of the growing interface between agritech and the data and software skills that the industry will need in future.

Lightcast Image 1


3. Partnership working

Understanding our regional economies, and designing workforce solutions that meet future skills requirements needs effective partnership working. Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) are one way in which partnership working can be generated. We can also look to initiatives such as:

  • the UK Food Valley – initiative by the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership and including Lincoln College; and
  • the North Devon Biosphere, a partnership that includes local authorities, chambers of commerce, statutory bodies such as the environment agency, government, charities and academic institutions, including Petroc College which is part of the South West Institute of Technology.

In 2002 around 1500mi2 of North Devon (30% of the county) was granted ‘biosphere’ designation by UNESCO because of its unique ecosystem. UNESCO maintains a worldwide network of over 700 biosphere reserves that, together, cover 5% of the earth’s surface and exist to “promote solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use” (UNESCO, 2022. ‘UNESCO Biosphere Reserves’).

Biosphere Reserves can therefore be considered as ’living laboratories’ for sustainable living and development, for testing and demonstrating integrated management of biodiversity, water and land. The premise being that learning is shared locally, nationally and globally, creating a systems-led approach that supports individuals to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours to be global citizens, acting locally but thinking globally.

(See the video links below for more information about regional partnership working in Agriculture.)

4. Green skills for all

The 2021 Green Jobs Taskforce found that “every job has the potential to become ‘green’ as the world moves to combat climate change, and there are a huge range of skills which will support the transition to a net zero economy” [Ref 4].

But what are those skills?

Also in 2021 the Brookings Institute released “A new green learning agenda: Approaches to quality education for climate action”. This is a great starting point for considering ‘green skills for all’ including:

  • Skills for green jobs
  • Green life skills
  • Skills for transformation

This skills list from Brookings is of great value to us as we reflect on our provision and curricula:

  • which of these skills and capacities are already developed through your curricula?
  • which should be, but aren’t?
  • what can you do to make that happen?

Some of the ‘transformative capacities’ in the list above are complex concepts and, you might feel, difficult to translate to your classrooms, workshops and workplace.

That’s where the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) come in and have a practical value in technical teaching. It’s difficult to imagine achieving ‘Zero Hunger’ (SDG 2) without coalition building, anticipatory thinking, and political agency. In addition, of course, there is critical progress that we’ll need to make in agriculture, food supply, diet, and sustainable consumption.

Education as an enabler

Education is a great enabler in the creation of global citizens; it is considered vital for re-writing the future and making opportunities more accessible and equitable for all It has the potential to improve lives and economic mobility and is the single biggest force for change in the world.

I know from my work with Agriculture colleagues from across the sector that this is an extremely exciting time to be educators in this area, but also a time of challenge and change.

I hope that this article has been useful in exploring the scope of that change. There’s some valuable additional information below – you might also be interested in signing up to our ‘Technical Teaching Community of Practice’ to receive occasional articles to support your delivery of excellent technical teaching. You can do that at :Technical Teaching Community of Practice - The Education and Training Foundation (

Further information

  1. Find out more about the ‘Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)’ model here.
  2. Access the Gatsby Charitable Foundation’s ‘Improving Technical Teaching’ resources – which include materials about Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) and Core Representation here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the topics in this article, watch these videos from the Education and Training Foundation’s ‘T Level Professional Development’ courses in Agriculture and land Management:



  1. The Development of Agriculture (
  2. World population with and without synthetic nitrogen fertilizers (
  3. Opinion: Time to break down the ethnic barriers in farming - Farmers Weekly (
  4. Green Jobs Taskforce ( [see page 6]