I attended the online launch of OCR’s consultation into creating a Natural History GCSE. There were live inputs from Mary Colwell, whose idea it was, and from OCR's Jill Duffy and Tim Oates. There was also a string of pre-recorded video inputs. Aurora Mclaughlin-Gouldhacker (Teach the Future), Steph West (Natural History Museum, London), and Wendy Litherland (St Christopher’s High School, Accrington – who was mostly in audible) joined Colwell, Duffy and Oates on a panel to respond to questions. There was (I understand) also much conversation #GCSENaturalHistory about it. You can relive it all here.
It was one of those formats where there was a screen with people talking and a sidebar with a string of comments and questions – a small minority of them self-promotional. We were all invited to contribute to this flow and to like what other had written. I found it hard to listen to the speakers and read the comments and questions coming through (let alone make any comments myself); so much so that I don’t think I did either well. It's probably an age thing – or not nearly enough practice on Twitter.
It looked a pretty successful event to me, and it probably achieved its broad purpose though, although I suspect that a close reading of the comments / questions may reveal contradictory expectations and demands from ’the field’, and many may well be disappointed by what has, in the end, to be omitted. That's inevitable, I think, in a subject that inspires passion and commitment as well as interest.
Here's a flavour (not representative) of the comments that illustrate what I've just noted:
– "So far, from all I have heard, this sounds like a really interesting idea. However, it does not sound like the course is actually on Natural History. It is Natural Science, Ecology or Environmental Science."
– "An issue may be conflating the current climate crisis, and messages we want to give about environmental protectionism, and the term natural history as an academic field of study. Risk is the GCSE becomes a mouth piece for a specific socio-environmental position."
– "I think there's a lot of different threads trying to come together here. Natural history, environmental sciences, earth sciences, art and literature, evolutionary biology, Linnaean classification, art, literature, philosophy... It's difficult to see what the end product is supposed to look like. At the moment it's a bit all things to all people."
"There is now a further period of consultation through a survey which ends on July 19th, and you can access it here. I did so on the following day. Here's a preview for you.
– 1 – "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. Study of science, geography, history and the arts at key stages 3 and 4 provides a variety of complementary skills and knowledge which support the study of Natural history. This subject supports the development of unique skills and knowledge which give a sharper focus and depth to the complexities of the natural world. The progression pathway for this subject at key stage 5 and beyond could be scientific, geographical, environmental, ecological or natural history itself."
– 2 – "Natural History focuses on understanding the rich and diverse natural world. Through observational study (generating systematic records of direct and indirect observations, often made over long periods of time) and investigation, natural history seeks to understand the diversity, complexities, and interconnectedness of life on Earth in contrasting habitats. Natural history explores how our natural world has been shaped, and how it continues to change, both by natural processes and through human intervention."
You'll be asked for what you think about these, as well as about other core aspects of the proposed qualification. It's easy to complete the survey quickly provided you don't think too hard about the issues. However, I found it impossible not to get absorbed into what are genuinely interesting and important environmental education questions. If you're reading this, it's likely you will feel the same.