A new GCSE in natural history has been unveiled, which will focus on climate change and teach students “how to conserve the planet”.
The course will aim to give young people “a deeper knowledge of the natural world around them”, and it will be available to students from 2025.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “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 to conserve it.”
The Department for Education has said that the natural history course would enable students “to explore the world by learning about organisms and environments, environmental and sustainability issues”.
The broad outline of the course has already been drawn up, and officials will now work with exam board OCR, which designed the course, and exams regulator Ofqual to design a full curriculum. It is understood that climate change will be a key focus of the qualification.
The model specification, which suggests what the qualification should look like, outlines how pupils would be able to understand “specific organisms and the setting in which they live”. They would also learn about the human impact on the environment and how this has evolved through time.
The specification says natural history has a “unique mix of scientific, geographical and ecological knowledge, skills and approaches”, with learning outcomes “very different” to those of biology or geography.
News of the qualification has been welcomed by environmentalists.
Mary Colwell, who led the campaign for the subject, said it would be “very nurturing and life-enhancing”.
She said that the GCSE was not just about climate change: “I think that the natural world provides people with a lot of solace and inspiration and we are in challenging times, being surrounded by things that nurture us. The study of natural history is very nurturing and life-enhancing.”
Ms Colwell also suggested that the qualification “could help young people with mental health issues and I think that was one of the reasons why [former environment secretary] Michael Gove was very keen – he was very supportive of the idea when we went to see him back in 2018 and he kept raising the idea that I can see the connections between this and a mental health crisis in young people. There is a connection between connecting with nature and better mental health.”
“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.”
–OCR Chief Executive Jill Duffy
Jill Duffy, OCR chief executive, 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.”
The Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said she was “delighted” that the new subject has been adopted: “Britain is a nation of nature-lovers, yet we’re also ranked as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. We owe it to our young people to teach them more about the riches of the natural world so they can recognise and appreciate its beauty, understand the scale of the loss we’re living through, and be equipped with the necessary tools to reverse it.”
It was also announced that the education secretary will launch a wider Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy, which will “help young people develop excellent knowledge of STEM and practical opportunities to improve biodiversity and climate resilience”.
There will be greater support for teaching climate change in all age groups, and new requirements for further education teachers to build sustainability into their teaching by 2023. A campaign to introduce at least one sustainability lead in every educational institution will be sped up.
Mr 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.”