OCR's proposal for a new GCSE in Natural History was a key part of Westminster Education Forum's 'Greening the Curriculum' conference on Tuesday 19 October 2021.
We were delighted to join a range of environmental champions including Sir Tim Smit, co-founder of the Eden Project, and Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP, as well as experts drawn from across the education sector and from environmental organisations, to discuss incorporating the environment and sustainability into education.
Paul Steer, OCR's Head of Policy, shared our extensive activities with stakeholders whose support was a vital step to proposing a new qualification for natural history. Over 2,000 people took part in a consultation we ran in summer 2020. Engaging with young people had been "our starting point" and we did this through the consultation and by inviting students to join our advisory board. Paul continued: "We were told this stuff matters by young people again and again". He described the amazing level of support from teachers too: "We're left in little doubt there is a huge body of teachers inspired by what is proposed and keen to get involved". Teachers' input has also informed our understanding of the resources and training needed to teach a new qualification. As for wider stakeholders like environmental organisations and enthusiasts, gathering support was "like knocking on an open door". Naturalist and broadcaster Mary Colwell got special thanks here as the person "who formulated the vision for a GCSE in Natural History long before OCR was involved".
Engagement about how nature, ecology and climate change can be embedded into education has stretched widely beyond natural history, including building on the ways the issues are covered in subjects like the sciences and geography. Paul also spoke about our work with Eco-Schools to set up the first ever national Eco-Committee made up of 25 young people from Year 5 to Year 13.
Paul then outlined the processes and requirements for establishing a new GCSE within a long-established legislative, regulatory and policy framework which is the remit of two key players - the Department for Education and our regulator, Ofqual.
Before Tim Oates, Director of Assessment Research at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, of which OCR is a part, expanded on the role and unique content of a potential new Natural History GCSE, Mary Colwell made a plea for more environmental education for young people. She described knowledge of the environment as "basic building blocks" and stressed that the planet should not be seen as a problem but "something that brings us alive". Tim Oates told the conference a new GCSE in Natural History would be "one part of a complex jigsaw" and "if approved, a really good balance of deep disciplined knowledge and engagement with field studies". He explained the proposed content for the GCSE could expand and extend knowledge rather than overlap with existing subjects and could support the goal of improving student attainment.
One of the recurring themes of the conference was the influence of the pandemic on our relationship with nature. Young conservationist, Kabir Kaul, who supports our proposal for a new GCSE, described discovering more green spaces himself during COVID-19. "A lot of friends have gone outside during the pandemic too," and he continued: "Children want to make a difference".
If you would like to find out more about our proposal for a new GCSE in Natural History, including to see all the key supporters we are working with, see our dedicated website and sign up for our updates.