A new GCSE for a greener future

A new natural history course for UK 14-16-year-olds has the potential to enhance understanding, appreciation and protection of the natural world

Published on 28th April 2022

Young people across the UK have mobilised in unprecedented numbers to demand widespread action against our twinned climate and ecological emergencies. One demand has focussed on the education system, calling for the provision of accurate, relevant, and up-to-date teaching about the natural world. Last Thursday, April 21 2022, the Department for Education announced within their Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy that a new GCSE in Natural History would be available from September 2025.

This announcement is a much anticipated breakthrough in climate action. Back in 2018, a small working group came together at the Linnean Society of London, a peaceful hub of natural history in the middle of bustling Piccadilly. Environmentalist Mary Colwell, who led the meeting, had been the first to propose the idea of a Natural History qualification for school students, back in 2011. The group at the Linnean Society discussed how a new GCSE course could come into being. Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, advised on the governmental process.

In the following three and a half years, the support for this qualification has increased manifold. The examinations board, OCR, has driven the development of the GCSE course in collaboration with several organisations, advisors, and, perhaps most importantly, in consultation with over 200 young people.

Family visitors to the Linnean Society
A family visiting the Linnean Society observing carnivorous plants

However, for these efforts to exercise their transformative potential on young people, and impact the natural world, the Linnean Society believes it is vital to continue to work alongside young people, as well as educators, policy makers, and natural history organisations, to ensure that this qualification is accessible to every school and individual that wishes to take it. We also need to ensure that the qualification is valuable to the lives and careers of those who elect it.

Conservationist and wildlife writer Kabir Kaul, 16, said, “In a time where we face climate and ecological crises, and rising eco-anxiety in young people, a Natural History GCSE will give my generation the knowledge and practical skills they need to value and protect the environment around them. I am hopeful and optimistic it will give many of them the confidence to make a difference for the natural world for decades to come.”

Gail Cardew, CEO of the Linnean Society, said, “This new qualification covers areas not seen in other qualifications such as Biology or Geography. The plans for a Natural History GCSE will provide much-needed context for young people of today to understand, value and protect the natural world during this planetary emergency of climate change and biodiversity loss. We must ensure that there are plenty of opportunities for young people to get out into nature and experience the beauty and fragility of our natural world. This isn’t going to work if it’s purely a desk-based GCSE.”

The Linnean Society is honoured and excited to work with the Department for Education and OCR in rolling out this new qualification, as well as provide support for educators and young people who choose to study the GCSE in Natural History.

Key supporters developing the GCSE