We welcome the idea of a GCSE in natural history

2023 could see the introduction of a new GCSE, the first since computer science was introduced in 2014. At Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust we welcome the idea of a GCSE in natural history.

2023 could see the introduction of a new GCSE, the first since computer science was introduced in 2014. At Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust we welcome the idea of a GCSE in natural history. In fact, we think it’s fantastic that young people with an interest in the subject will be able to deepen their learning, and their connection to nature, through dedicated study.

However, as Becky Fisher, Senior Engagement Manager explains the GCSE is only a step in the right direction. We believe children should have the opportunity to have immersive learning experiences in nature throughout their whole school lives. If officially approved, natural history will be an optional GCSE with young people only choosing to study it if they’d like to, but how do you choose a subject if you’ve never experienced it? If I cast my mind back to when I took my GCSEs, there were a selection I had to take and then a few more I could choose to study. I think my choice of art at GCSE is a good example here. I am not a particularly talented artist, I’m pretty good at pencil drawing from a photograph (just please don’t ask me to draw people). However, I love art. It’s something I got to experience throughout my whole school life, from my mum taking my hand and dipping it in paint at pre-school, right through primary and into secondary. Not only did I get to have hands on experiences with art and dedicated lessons to study it, but I also learnt through art in maths, science, english, geography, and history. Art, in some form, whether you’re painting, writing poetry or making a 3D model of a volcano, runs through a lot, if not all the subjects taught across the primary and secondary curriculums. We’d like to see nature embedded in a similar way.  

We know the appetite for outdoor learning is there, this year we’ve seen an increase in the number of schools contacting us to get help with outdoor learning, and we’ve shared some of the success stories from across the two counties. Just last week I met with a school who have written a natural history curriculum which they will learn throughout their primary school science lessons. The examples are out there, and it’s becoming more mainstream, but we’re not there yet. There’s three main ways nature can be embedded in school life; we’d like to see a mixture of all three across primary and secondary. 

Learning in nature 

This is simply taking lessons outdoors. Something a lot more schools have experienced this year. It can be as straightforward as choosing to read a story outside in english, or encouraging pupils to take their self-directed study to a quiet spot outside instead of sitting in the library. 

Learning with nature 

Using nature to help explain concepts. For example, using leaves to understand fractions or playing Pooh sticks in a river to understand velocity.  

Learning through nature 

This is so much more than knowing the names of trees, plants and animals. This is about full immersive experiences, which follow the five pathways to nature connection and offer children and young people the opportunity to build confidence, resilience and crucially offer the much-needed benefits to mental and physical health.  

The introduction of a GCSE in natural history is definitely a step in the right direction, and we’re excited to meet the young people who take the GCSE at our Education Centres in the future. Alongside this we’d like more flexibility in the curriculum for teachers and senior management teams to have the space to teach in, with and through nature. Plus, we’d like to see nature, and outdoor learning taught as part of teaching training, giving new teachers, and their assistants, the skills and confidence to take their children outdoors. We’ll continue working with our colleagues across the Wildlife Trusts, and our partners in other conservation organisations to call for these changes. In the meantime, we continue to offer training in natural history, subject based outdoor learning, and immersive experiential training such as Forest School, and we continue to ensure that there are opportunities for everyone at our three Education Centres. If you want to inspire your school, or you child or grandchild’s school to do more outdoor learning you can encourage them to become a Wilder School, we’ll give free support to start their journey, and guide them along the way. See https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/Schools-groups for more on the support we offer.