Are environmental science courses at GC(S)E worth it?

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I had this request the other day:

I’m a journalist with Solar Media, we run a few news sites covering solar energy and renewables and energy efficiency more generally.  I was looking for some on the record reaction to the news that Environmental Science is one of the subjects that could be scrapped at GCSE and A-Level under a consultation announced today…would you be able to send some comments over ...?

Here's my response:

I am not sure that this is the news story that others seem to think it is.  On the face of it, it's an exam board looking to rationalise its programmes by identifying less popular ones.  I imagine this happens from time to time.

The important issue for me is what is to be lost by such a move.  Thinking of A level, first, I would be worried about, and want to resist, such closures if it were the case that these courses are an important preparation of students for particular university degrees and then jobs in the environmental sciences; that is, if they provided a route to higher education and employment that other A levels did not provide.  Another issue is the extent to which such courses provide a valuable broadening of students' A level studies away from the more traditional specialist A level sciences.  If they do, there's a strong case for retention.  A lot depends on the nature of the students who take these courses and what then happens to them.  I do not have these data, but I guess the Boards might.

In relation to GCSE, both these arguments for retention apply, but seem considerably weaker, and there has to be a strong case for saying that what would be really useful would be the mainstream science subjects absorbing the important aspects of those GCSE courses now under scrutiny.  If that were to happen, I'd say this might be a good move although it would likely be resisted by all sorts of subject specialists both within schools and the exam boards.


Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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