Following a 2019 campaign spearheaded by naturalist Mary Colwell, the UK exam board OCR is in the process of developing a proposal for a new qualification in Natural History. This follows an extensive consultation with stakeholders including the Natural History Museum and Field Studies Council.
As the need to find solutions to global environmental issues becomes ever more urgent, having the opportunity to thoroughly educate young people on their impact upon the natural world, and how their actions would lessen that impact. With the current government emphasis on the environment, this GCSE could provide a starting point for young people to work towards green jobs of the future. Early consultation with young people found that the younger generation felt particularly strongly about topics such as biodiversity; life in our oceans; the impact of humans on ecosystems/habitats; climate change; conservation methods; and species reintroduction, but currently felt ill equipped to effectively engage with debates and conversations around these subjects.
If this new qualification goes ahead, it would fall in line between the current biology and geography subjects, and would aim to provide a rich, more holistic ‘real life’ understanding of the finer connections involved in the natural world, and how human intervention has altered that relationship in both the past and present. Students would also expect to enjoy practical, hands on education though field trips and on-site learning, with the aim to encourage more of a connection with the natural environment. In their recent consultation, OCR started to explore five possible content areas; flora and fauna; human impact on the world (including climate change); the natural shaping of the world (such as glaciation); life in the early world (such as dinosaurs), and how our view of the world is changing (such as the depiction of the natural world). OCR will continue to have conversations about content areas (although ultimately DfE defines the content).
Those involved in developing this qualification are keen for it to be content rich and be both engaging and motivating to those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the subtle relationships in the natural world. Extensive consultation and conversations with various organisations such as the GWCT will help make the qualification both teachable and manageable to deliver, and hopefully enable it to be a widely available in all schools.
OCR submitted their proposal to develop a GCSE in Natural History to the Department for Education (DfE) on 23rd October 2020. This proposal is based on their six week consultation and there is a separate comprehensive report which summarises the key findings.
You can download this report and infographic here.
If the DfE decide to take OCR’s proposal forward, they will launch their own consultation. You can see the subsequent steps in OCR’s consultation timeline.
Visit the OCR website to sign-up for updates on OCR's Natural History GCSE proposal.