A group of teenagers are collecting litter from a beach.

The new qualification will focus on climate change, sustainability and local wildlife ©Inside Creative House/Shutterstock

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New natural history GCSE to focus on saving the planet

A new natural history course for UK high school students will help pupils develop a deeper understanding of the natural world.

The qualification has been developed in conjunction with several organisations, including the Museum, and is expected to be available for students to take from September 2025. 

In three years' time, students between the ages of 14-16 in the UK will be able to sit down and officially study natural history as a dedicated subject.

The new GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) is the first new subject to be introduced at this level in five years. It is the result of a decade-long campaign by naturalist Mary Colwell, who garnered support from many people and organisations, including Chris Packham, Baroness Floella Benjamin, The Wildlife Trust and the Museum.

'A GCSE in Natural History could be a game-changer for the nature of Britain,' says Mary. 'Everyone will have the opportunity to be nature-literate, to learn about British wildlife and how it relates to the rest of the world, which is essential for a sustainable, green future.'

The qualification is being developed by the examinations board OCR and will be ready for students to take by 2025. 

A new future for students

The natural history GCSE will build upon topics covered in other subject areas, such as urbanisation in geography and habitats and ecosystems typically taught in biology.

But it will also cover a much wider range of topics. Pupils will study global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity and sustainability, but will also be encouraged to look much closer to home at their own local wildlife and the environments and ecology which surrounds them.

Students will also develop skills to help them go into a future career in the natural world through field work, such as observation, description, recording and analysis.  

UK Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum have backed the new qualification.

Nadhim Zahawi, the UK's Education Secretary, says, 'It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that young people are already very committed to a more sustainable planet. We should be proud of this, and I want to do everything I can to encourage this passion so they can be agents of change in protecting our planet.

'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 we can come together to conserve it.'

The new natural history GCSE will be launched today at the Museum.

Dr Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum, says, 'We have been delighted to work with OCR and such a wealth of experts in helping to shape what this exciting new subject could look like.

'Drawing on the Museum's vast experience, we know that once young people are inspired to engage with the world around them, they are far more likely to want to protect it. A Natural History GCSE is a huge step in helping to harness the passion young people across the UK are demonstrating for the natural world and in creating Advocates for the Planet.'