The DfE has announced that the optional GCSE in Natural History, promoted by OCR, is to go ahead. This will be formally announced on Thursday at the launch of the Department’s Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy in London.
For those blessed with 20-20 hindsight it’s easy to see why this is an opportune time for the DfE to reveal this. It will come as a relief to OCR which has done a great job in promoting it, and to the very many supporters of the GCSE across the country after what has been a long period of internal DfE discussion.
NAEE has been a member of the OCR group advising on the qualification and so we know something of the level of support from across many environmental organisations for the qualification. We also know from our internal discussions on the topic that there are reservations. One is its optional nature. Despite Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi saying that “the new natural history GCSE will offer young people a chance to develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of this amazing planet, its environment and how to conserve it”, this will sadly only apply to a minority of the cohort whereas a lot of people (including NAEE) want all young people (and hence society at large) to benefit from courses like this. Being optional is bad enough, but worse follows: the fact that a GCSE exists will mean that making the non-optional science GCSEs (especially biology) fit for the 21st century may well become much more difficult. As a result, it will be likely (unless there is a massive shift from biology to natural history) that most young people in schools today will continue to be short-changed.
It will now be up to OCR (and supporters), DfE and Ofqual, the exams regulator, to develop the detailed content for the course and examination. How this evolves will determine how attractive the GCSE will ultimately be, and therefore how much the school experience for some young people will change for the better.
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