Plans for new GCSE in Natural History

OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA) have launched a consultation in response to the call for developing a GCSE in Natural History.  They were approached by naturalist Mary Colwell, who has been spearheading a campaign to address the gap in natural history content in education. Since then they have been working closely with Colwell, the Natural History Museum and many others to understand the purpose and themes of such a qualification.

They have created a proposed statement on the purpose of studying Natural History:

Natural history offers a unique opportunity to observe and engage with the natural world to develop a deeper understanding of the flora and fauna (life on Earth) within it. It is a study of how the natural world has been shaped and has evolved as well as how humans (as part of that natural world) influence, conserve and protect it.  It is vital that we continue to develop our understanding of the natural world in order to safeguard the future.

To fully appreciate the complexities of the natural world it is important to study it closely and interact with it through field research and measurement. Natural history provides opportunities to develop skills out in the field as well as in a classroom and/or laboratory. Studying natural history makes an important contribution to understanding the relationship between the natural world and culture, policy decisions, scientific research and technology.

I am fully supportive of the need to develop a GCSE that encourages a connection to nature. Education is of course vitally important; it imparts knowledge and can create a change in behaviours. But there is a large body of research demonstrating that connectedness to nature is an important predictor of environmentally responsible behaviour (and also has a large number of wellbeing benefits). McPherson et al. (2014) conclude that promoting connectedness to nature should be an important goal for environmental education programs. And I feel that the connectiveness element is missing in this statement.

It talks of interacting with the natural world through field research and measurement. Native American, Aboriginal, Sapára cultures etc., have a far better understanding of the natural world than modern-day urbanised human communities, and yet they did not cultivate their connection through field research and measurement. I believe we are at risk of missing a trick here, we need to allow time for children to simply be in nature, to use their senses to mindfully observe the natural world around us and connect.  I think Covid-19 has shown our primaeval need for nature and the good effect it has on our wellbeing. Surely this is an important element for future generations and should therefore be included in the new proposed GCSE.

Share you view  by completing the consultation https://teach.ocr.org.uk/naturalhistory . The consultation closes at midnight on the 19th July.

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