History in the making: Cambridge Assessment announces first ever GCSE in Natural History

11 February 2020

Cambridge Assessment has confirmed that its UK exam board OCR is developing a new GCSE in Natural History.

The new qualification will aim to offer young people the opportunity to engage with nature, as well as give environmental issues more prominence in the curriculum.

OCR Chief Executive Jill Duffy said: “We think there's a gap in the curriculum that isn't encouraging a connection with the natural world, and at the same time, we know that young people are very much engaged in the debate on the environment and they understand what their role should be and could be in protecting for the future.

“We know that they want to get engaged, but we also know that they feel at the moment that they don't have enough knowledge or understanding to help them engage effectively.”

The initiative is the brainchild of naturalist Mary Colwell, who is concerned that young people are becoming potentially more detached from the natural world. After starting a petition for a GCSE in Natural History on the UK Parliament website which attracted more than 10,000 signatures, Mary enlisted support from Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Tim Oates CBE, Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment, who began to develop a prototype assessment model for the new qualification.

Tim said: “The title ‘Natural History’ refers back to a long tradition established in Britain of classifying, understanding, observing and reflecting on the natural world. It looks forward, to better consciousness and management of our relationship with the natural world and back at all of the insights that we gain through the history of engagement with nature.”

Tim explained how the new qualification is intended to sit outside the core subjects that make up the EBacc performance measure in England: “It would have a unique character. It would add to the qualifications catalogue in an appropriate way, not overlap unduly with existing well-established qualifications and subjects,” he said.

Jill said that the new GCSE will require extensive consultation with schools, teachers, subject experts and associations to decide how best to implement the qualification. She encouraged interested stakeholders with ideas for the development of a GCSE in Natural History to contact OCR (or leave a comment below).