Natural History GCSE 0 – 1 Sceptics

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I've been re-watching the BBC1 Countryfile show where there was a feature on environmental education.  As the NAEE weekly round-up noted, one strong theme of the programme was that it’s young people who are demanding and driving curriculum innovation, and another was the way that GCSE biology currently squeezes out young people’s hands-on experience of the natural world.  Well, there's good evidence to support both those propositions.  And as the programme implied, it's not just the DfE that is luke-warm about all this, but schools themselves, most especially secondary ones.

There was an opportunity in the programme to promote the nascent GCSE in Natural History, and this was duly done by Mary Colwell, whose idea it originally was.  But presenter Tom Heap was intent on bringing some balance to the arguments.  He said:

"Many will agree that nature needs to be more than an afterthought in our education system but is there a risk that a new GCSE could actually lead to fewer pupils learning about nature?  Some argue that a separate GCSE and an optional one at that could lead to the natural world being dumped from the biology and geography curriculums."

Just to hear that question asked and then to have no chance to rebut it must have been a disappointment to the GCSE campaigners, and a bit of a blow, especially as Melissa Glackin then made an explicit case for environmental education / natural history for all.

Tom Heap ended by saying this:

"It's young people who look to be leading calls for action on environmental issues so could it be that we have got this the wrong way round?  That it's not pupils who need to be convinced that nature is worth studying, but that young people themselves will force their schools to put nature at the heart of their education?  ... The question is how [young people's] education can keep up with their passion."

Well, it's not just young people calling for this, but it's significant that their arguments are being made so strongly.  In reality of course, not nearly enough young people are doing this (yet).  And not nearly enough schools (yet) have groups of students agitating for necessary internal change.

It seems to me that even if the DfE were to do as young people want and, for example, change the 2002 Education Act, the problem would still remain in that schools and teachers would still have to want to change.  Could it be, therefore, that the campaigns to change the DfE mindset is misplaced and it's school leadership and governance that the pressure needs to be focused on?

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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