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The government needs to ‘put climate and nature at the heart of education in the UK’

The Wildlife Trust says nature has been ‘ignored’ in education ‘for far too long’

A charity has called on the government to “put climate and nature at the heart of education in the UK” and introduce a Natural History GCSE amid growing support.

The Wildlife Trust said the government should announce the qualification and set standards for outdoor learning when the Department for Education (DfE) publishes its Sustainability & Climate Change Strategy in April. The strategy is intended to shape how environmental issues are taught in schools.

The idea for a natural history GCSE was put forward by the exam board OCR in October 2020 after its six-week consultation found that 94 per cent of the 200 young people it heard from would like to have, or have had, the option to study this qualification.

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Jill Duffy, chief executive of OCR, said the current curriculum “isn’t encouraging a connection with the natural world,” despite young people being “very much engaged with the debate” on sustainability and the environment

“[Young people] understand what their role should be and could be in protecting for the future,” she said. 

The government announced it was considering introducing the qualification in May 2021, but has yet to announce a change to the curriculum. 

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The Wildlife Trust said it is “concerned the government is at risk of failing to put climate and nature at the heart of education in the UK.”

As well as the introduction of a nature-based GCSE, the charity is also calling on the government to introduce a minimum standard for outdoor learning, with 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.

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The Trust referenced a  study by the University of Derby, which found that young people’s connection to nature drops sharply from the age of 11 and doesn’t recover until they are 30 – with significant implications for their engagement with pro-environmental behaviours like recycling or buying eco-friendly products.

It added that children are spending 60 per cent less time outside than before the pandemic.

And Teach the Future research from 2021 found that, while 92 per cent of teachers are concerned about climate change, only 5 per cent said climate change is integral to many different aspects of the curriculum and teaching in their school.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said a nature-focused GCSE is long overdue, and that nature is “largely ignored” in education.

“The nature crisis and the climate emergency are inextricably linked,” he said.

“It’s bad enough that we are leaving such an appalling, toxic, denuded inheritance for the next generation. 

“But what’s worse is that, in general, we’re not even providing young people with the sort of education that will be needed to help them do something about it.”

Dr Amir Khan, a GP, TV personality and ambassador for Wildlife Trust, said: “Nature should be entwined into every subject and at every level of education. 

“We also need a new generation of naturalists, scientists, and innovators to help us restore our natural world, and develop solutions to the environmental and social impacts of climate change.”

“To save our world, we must evolve how and what we teach. Now is the moment to boost learning about nature, benefitting pupils, society, and our planet.”

Bennett added: “The government has the evidence that proves why these things are vital and has made international commitments on climate education – it must delay no longer. 

“Nature should be at the heart of our education system and it’s tragic that it has been neglected for so long.”

The DfE has been approached for comment. 

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