The DfE Strategy : take 1

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Here's my first reaction to the newly announced DfE strategy on Sustainability and Climate Change that will be launched later today.

It is clear that DfE has been storing up the GCSE natural history to be part of the strategy.  It’s one of only two new pieces of curriculum.  The other is a Primary Science Model Curriculum.  The strategy says:
"By 2025 we will aim to introduce a natural history GCSE, giving young people a further opportunity to engage with and develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of the natural world.  In studying this GCSE, young people will explore organisms and environments in more depth, gain knowledge and practical experience of fieldwork and develop a greater understanding of conservation."
The  document glosses over its optional status, and is silent on whether it can be taken alongside biology as a complement to it; that is to say, to make up for everything that biology isn’t these days.
The Primary Science Model Curriculum has re-emerged.  I came across this as a bland announcement during the pandemic, and then it vanished.  As I noted a little while ago, these model curricula are a way of changing the national curriculum with going to the bother of formally changing it through parliament.  Cunning; especially as model, in this sense, means the best practice that every school should aspire to.  The strategy says:
" by 2023 we shall develop a Primary Science Model Curriculum, to include an emphasis on nature to ensure all children understand the world around them."
The emphasis on nature is clearly a positive move.  You have to wonder whether DfE sees it as a preparation for the natural history GCSE.
Despite these additions, the fact remains that what the national curriculum says, and what existing GCSEs demand, are inadequate because they do not require in-depth study of issues, nor do they enable young people to explore their roles in working with others to create solutions to our problems.  I suspect that DfE thinks that my last sentence is plain wrong.
There's to be an annual climate literacy survey but, as you do not add quality by examination or inspection, it's hard to see this as significant.
 There are a lot of announcements on teacher support and resources but I struggled to see where the coherence is in all of it.  I badly needed a diagram to make sense of it.  Climate change and sustainability are to be included in science teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD), but the focus will be on scientific facts about climate change and environmental degradation.  Best practice is to be shared.  By whom is not clear; not is how “best” is to be determined.  I doubt if DfE will do this itself.  I’ll just note that this is what my local authority science advisor was doing in 1974.
The nature park idea has a more substance to it than previously, and it’s good to see that the Climate Leaders Award (which will complement classroom learning) "will provide a structured route through existing awards in this area, such as the John Muir Award, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, Junior Forester Award, and others."  However, given that it goes on to say that "Participation will enable children and young people to acquire credits towards the prestigious Climate Leaders Award, which will be designed to be recognised and valued in supporting progression to employment and further study” I was left puzzled.  Can you do a DoE module and get credit for the CLA?  Or can you do a CLA module and get credit for the DoE?  Or is it both?
There are some promises about ITT but nothing that is clear.
I read that Reading's Climate Education Action Plan Group will be setting up an independent expert body, including members such as the Royal Meteorological Society, STEM Learning, Association of Science Teaching  (I think they mean the ASE) for the validation and creation of climate education resources that support the delivery of the national curriculum.  The emphasis will be on facts.  I could hear the echo of Thomas Gradgrind's cheers.
In relation to Green Jobs and skills, although on p. 6 they say that "Green jobs will not be niche. We anticipate that sustainability and climate change will touch every career”, in relation to what is taught, they have rejected the idea that every job is a green job.  NAEE persuaded the EAC that this made sense in the real world; but not to the DfE which goes on about the "green sector" and so on.  This suggests that they do not understand what they’re trying to do.
This was a quick first reaction.  There will be more ...

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