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Green light for GCSE in Natural History 

A brand-new GCSE in Natural History is set to be introduced, as the UK's Department for Education backs proposals by OCR, a leading UK awarding body that is part of Cambridge University Press & Assessment.  

Hawksbill turtle swimming in shallow ocean waters.

Natural History could be taught to 14 -16 year olds from 2025. Pupils will develop a rigorous understanding of the natural world: from their own local wildlife, environment and ecosystem to critical global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity and sustainability. 

The move is the culmination of a decade-long campaign led by naturalist Mary Colwell, with support from leading environmentalists such as the Eden Project’s Sir Tim Smit, broadcaster Baroness Floella Benjamin, teenage conservationist Kabir Kaul, and ‘urban birder’ David Lindo.  

Global adventurer Bear Grylls hailed the new GCSE as “a brilliant addition to the learning young people receive on climate education.”

It builds on years of research by OCR with Cambridge University Press & Assessment, involving more than 2,500 teachers, students and environmental experts.  

The UK government Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi will announce the new GCSE as part of the Department for Education’s flagship sustainability and climate change strategy, which is being launched at the Natural History Museum in London later today (21 April 2022).

Nadhim Zahawi said: "We are delivering a better, safer, greener world for future generations and education is one of our key weapons in the fight against climate change. The entrepreneurial, can-do spirit of this country makes me confident that we will win this fight. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that young people are already very committed to a more sustainable planet. We should be proud of this, and I want to do everything I can to encourage this passion so they can be agents of change in protecting our planet. The new natural history GCSE will offer young people a chance to develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of this amazing planet, its environment and how we can come together to conserve it.”

MPs and peers from across the political spectrum in the UK, including the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas and Conservative former teacher Caroline Ansell, have backed the qualification, which is seen as a major step forward in efforts to ‘green the curriculum’.

OCR chief executive, Jill Duffy, said: “This GCSE is a wonderful opportunity for young people everywhere – from urban to rural environments – to study and connect with wildlife and the natural world. Deeper engagement with biodiversity and sustainability will equip generations of young people to understand their environment and grapple with critical challenges.”

Tim Oates CBE, who leads Assessment Research & Development at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, said: “As climate change threatens our way of life, the education system must respond. A forward-thinking curriculum cannot remain static in a rapidly changing world. This shows how national qualifications can support vital social and economic priorities around sustainability - building on the National Curriculum in primary and delivering the awareness and understanding which the Dasgupta Review strongly recommended. It’s been such a pleasure working with Mary Colwell on the detail and direction of this qualification, and with advisers such as Sir Tim Smit of the Eden Project, Bill Scott of NAEE and Beth Stone of the Natural History Museum, along with everyone on our Strategic Advisory Board.”   

A fox looks around a fence at a cyclist

Environmentalist Mary Colwell said: "A GCSE in Natural History could be a game-changer for the nature of Britain. 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." 

Eden Project co-founder Sir Tim Smit said: “This decision is one of the most exciting things that has happened in education in the last thirty years. Seeing the world through the lens of the natural world will transform our wider understanding and empathy for the interconnection between all living things. I am so pleased that the Department for Education is demonstrating real leadership. Mary Colwell inspired us throughout to keep believing in her vision that this could be achieved.”

The Urban Birder David Lindo said: “A lifetime's dream has finally come to fruition. Hopefully, our future leaders will now have a more balanced view on how to keep the world safe for us all.”  

people walking in the countryside

Dr Doug Gurr, director of the Natural History Museum, said, “We have been delighted to work with OCR and such a wealth of experts in helping to shape what this exciting new subject could look like. Drawing on the Museum’s vast experience, we know that once young people are inspired to engage with the world around them, they are far more likely to want to protect it. A Natural History GCSE is a huge step in helping to harness the passion young people across the UK are demonstrating for the natural world and in creating advocates for the planet.” 

Conservationist and wildlife writer Kabir Kaul, aged 16, said: “In a time where we face climate and ecological crises, and rising eco-anxiety in young people, a Natural History GCSE will give my generation the knowledge and practical skills they need to value and protect the environment around them. I am hopeful and optimistic it will give many of them the confidence to make a difference for the natural world for decades to come.”

Dom Higgins of the Wildlife Trusts said: “We applaud this announcement and hope the new GCSE will inspire lots of young people, from diverse backgrounds to consider a career in conservation. For many teenagers gaping inequalities mean they don’t get the opportunity to enjoy and understand nature or wild places. Young people have been at the forefront of action for a healthier planet, now they will finally have the chance to study our natural world, its wildlife and plants, our impact on it and how climate change and nature are interlinked.”  

 a bee gathers nectar from the yellow centre of a white flower

Professor Phil Manning, Chair of Natural History at the University of Manchester, said: “The natural world consists of a rich language that if properly taught and understood has the ability to save the planet for future generations. The GCSE in Natural History is a major step towards a sustainable planet, with schools becoming hubs for student ambassadors. There is still hope for the future when knowledge and understanding of our planet is spread far and wide.”

Field Studies Council chief executive, Mark Castle, said: “This decision marks an extraordinary moment for the future of environmental education in schools. It will give young people the opportunity to develop the skills, knowledge and passion that will enable them to help build a more sustainable future for themselves and others. With a much broader input from science, humanities and the arts it will allow them to connect and engage with the natural world in so many different ways.”

Suzanne Moss, Head of Education and Learning at the RHS, said: “The approval of a Natural History GCSE is a major step forward in environmental education. When people understand the world around them they are much more likely to want to, and to be able to protect it. We are delighted that this diverse and inclusive programme considers a wide range of environments, from rural, to urban, to cultivated and will link more learners with the possibilities of the plant world. It will open up new avenues for young people in their careers, and support the protection of the planet at an individual and organisational level.”  

a line of wind turbines set against a blue sky

Baroness Floella Benjamin said: “To understand the plight of our planet and how to rescue it is vital. So young people need to study natural history as early as possible in depth, so that they can take GCSE exams and be equipped to save the world from catastrophe.”

Lord Ralph Lucas said: “If we are to do better by the natural world we must bring up our children to know it and feel part of it. A Natural History GCSE will anchor all the DfE’s efforts in this direction.”

Bear Grylls said: “The introduction of a natural history GCSE is a brilliant addition to the learning young people receive on climate education. It will inspire so many young people to develop their passion and knowledge of the natural world, and how we can best protect it.”  

a red squirrel sits in front of red flowers on a garden table

 

We extend our thanks to all the individuals and organisations who have backed the introduction of the new GCSE Natural History, including: 

Mary Colwell, naturalist Baroness Floella Benjamin, broadcaster Eden Project,  Sir Tim Smit
Professor Phil Manning, University of Manchester Bear Grylls, adventurer  Natural History Museum, London
Urban BirderDavid Lindo  Kaul of the Wild,  teenage conservationist Kabir Kaul Lord Ralph Lucas, editor of the Good Schools Guide
RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) The Wildlife Trusts The Linnean Society of London
Field Studies Council Teach the Future National Association for Environment Education (NAEE)

 

A full list of the stakeholders who supported the proposal for a new GCSE in Natural History is available on our OCR website

 

natural history

the study of plants, animals, rocks, etc.:

We went to see the dinosaur skeletons in the Natural History Museum.

Cambridge Dictionary