New natural history GCSE to be introduced

Young girl bird watching with binoculars.

Following years of campaigning by conservationist and author Mary Colwell since she first suggested the idea in 2011, a natural history GCSE has been announced as part of the Department of Education‘s Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy.

The launch of the strategy, and the announcement of the GCSE, took place at the Natural History Museum, London by Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi.

The GCSE has been developed by author and Curlew Action director Mary Colwell with the OCR exam board, and with support from MPs such as Caroline Lucas.

“A GCSE in natural history could be a game-changer for the nature of Britain,” she said. “Everyone will have the opportunity to be nature-literate, to learn about British wildlife and how it relates to the rest of the world, which is essential for a sustainable, green future.”

The GCSE aims to connect students with the natural world and environmental and sustainability issues by:

  1. Understanding local wildlife and how local species relate to other areas throughout the UK. Understand why wildlife differs from place to place, study their behaviour and their relationships with the environment.
  2. Developing field craft, including surveying, monitoring and data collection using a variety of techniques and how to analyse and use data.
  3. Understanding how the human world impacts wildlife through agriculture, industry and development as well as through social and political forces, at local, national and international levels.

The wildlife charity The Wildlife Trusts supports the new GCSE, and hopes for further ‘greening’ of education across the curriculum.

“Learning in, and about nature must be part of the journey that leads to children choosing a natural history GCSE,” says Dom Higgins, head of health and education at the Wildlife Trusts. “We hope the announcement from the Secretary of State includes setting standards for outdoor learning, these are still lacking, despite years of evidence showing how beneficial it is for children’s health, confidence, and well-being.”

“We want to see children given opportunities to spend at least an hour a day learning outside, and for nature and climate education to be embedded across all subjects and at all levels. This is crucial at a time when children’s interaction with nature is declining, with 60% of young people spending less time outdoors since the start of the pandemic.”