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Natural history GCSE to be introduced as part of government's climate education strategy

The government has announced a new natural history GCSE as part of a new strategy to improve climate and environmental education in schools.

Binoculars

The GSCE will include fieldwork for students to learn about conservation.

The government has announced it will introduce a natural history GCSE to the school curriculum as part of its new strategy for improving environmental education.

Due to be launched in September 2025, the qualification will aim to educate students in environmental and sustainability issues alongside developing skills in conservation through fieldwork.

Environmentalist Mary Colwell, who spearheaded the campaign to introduce the GCSE, said she was “delighted” it had been given the go-ahead, with hopes it would give young people “the skills they need to contribute to a green future”.

The announcement comes as part of the government’s new Sustainability and Climate Change strategy outlining how environmental and climate education will be improved in schools.

The strategy outlines how the Department of Education (DoE) will help young people develop “excellent knowledge” of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and practical opportunities for improving biodiversity and climate resilience to prepare them for the future. It includes further plans to:

  • Accelerate the rollout of carbon literacy training to support at least one sustainability lead in every locally maintained nursery, school, college and university.
  • Pledge greater support for teaching climate change at all levels with new requirements for further education teachers to build sustainability into their teaching by 2023.
  • Accelerate the rollout of ultra-low carbon education buildings.
  • Introduce “National Education Nature Park” measures to increase biodiversity on school and nursery grounds.
  • Introduce a new “Climate Award” in recognition of children and young people’s work to improve their environment, with a prestigious national awards ceremony held every year.

Children’s access to nature has declined over the past few decades, with children from ethnic minority backgrounds and poorer families worst-affected.

As The Big Issue reported this week, Britain is facing an invisible extinction of biodiversity. According to a survey from Natural England, around 60 per cent of children are now spending less time outdoors than they did before the pandemic – contrary to popular assumptions that coronavirus boosted access to nature. 

The situation has led numerous high-profile environmentalists to call for action to re-engage younger generations with nature to equip them with the skills and knowledge needed to combat biodiversity loss and climate change. 

Earlier this year, 17-year-old climate activist Scarlett Westbrook and MP Nadia Whittome tabled a “climate education bill” which called for climate education to run “like a golden thread” throughout the entire curriculum. 

While Westbrook welcomed the move to allow some students to further explore their interest in the natural history field, she questioned whether all schools will be able to afford provision of the GCSE.

“In practice this subject will be exclusive to schools that can afford it and the government are pushing it as a form of climate action when it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface,” she said.

“We need rapid decarbonisation in line with the IPCC agreement and climate education embedded into every subject into every stream of education,” Westbrook added.

The DoE said the new GCSE will build on climate education gained in existing subjects like geography and science, “teaching the history and evolution of species and the impact of life on our natural environments and how they are changing and evolving”.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “Sustainability and climate change are the biggest challenges facing mankind. None of us can be in any doubt just how critical they have become. 

“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.”

Colwell said that, alongside developing skills, she hopes the new GCSE will help young people “develop a lifelong fascination for this wonderful planet”.

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