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Children ill-equipped for nature and climate crises without education reform

Hand with green on holding a green plant

The Wildlife Trusts call for nature GCSE and learning outdoors to be prioritised when Government unveils education plans this spring

The Wildlife Trusts are calling on the Government to announce the long-awaited Natural History GCSE and set standards for outdoor learning when the Department for Education publishes its ‘Sustainability & Climate Change Strategy’ in April.

The strategy is intended to shape how environmental issues are taught in schools. Currently, there are no requirements to help children develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of the natural world.

Also absent are minimum standards for outdoor learning, despite years of evidence showing how beneficial it is for children’s health, confidence, and well-being. Children’s interaction with nature is also declining, with 60% of young people spending less time outdoors since the start of the pandemic.

At COP26 in Glasgow last year, ministers for education and climate committed to: “the integration of sustainability and climate change in formal education systems.”

The Wildlife Trusts are concerned the Government is at risk of failing to put climate and nature at the heart of education in the UK and are calling for:

  • A GCSE that focuses specifically on nature and climate
  • A minimum standard for outdoor learning, with children given opportunities to spend at least an hour a day learning outside
  • Nature and climate education to be embedded across all subjects and at all levels

Despite widespread support, little progress has been made to include a nature GCSE in the curriculum and further delay could see the idea abandoned altogether.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“The nature crisis and the climate emergency are inextricably linked. It’s bad enough that we are leaving such an appalling, toxic, denuded inheritance for the next generation. But what’s worse is that, in general, we’re not even providing young people with the sort if education that will be needed to help them do something about it.

“For too long, nature has been largely ignored in education with far reaching consequences for the environment and for our own wellbeing.

“The natural history GCSE should have happened by now as should an increase in outdoor learning provision.

“The Government has the evidence that proves why these things are vital and has made international commitments on climate education – it must delay no longer. Nature should be at the heart of our education system and it’s tragic that has been neglected for so long.”

TV GP and Wildlife Trusts ambassador, Dr Amir Khan, says:

“Nature should be entwined into every subject and at every level of education. We also need a new generation of naturalists, scientists, and innovators to help us restore our natural world, and develop solutions to the environmental and social impacts of climate change.”

“To save our world, we must evolve how and what we teach. Now is the moment to boost learning about nature, benefitting pupils, society, and our planet.”

The Wildlife Trusts believe the Government needs to focus on:

A nature GCSE:

  • More than 90% of people agree or strongly agree with the proposed purpose of a GCSE in natural history
  • An initial campaign was led by naturalist Mary Colwell, who has long been concerned about a lack of natural history in the curriculum

Minimum standards and time set for outdoor learning:

  • Research shows that outdoor learning improves children’s health, well-being, happiness, and ability to learn
  • There are currently no requirements for children to spend time learning outside

Embedding nature and climate education across all subjects and at all levels:

  • 70% of teachers have not received adequate training to teach about climate change    
  • Research shows that young people’s connection to nature drops sharply from the age of 11 and doesn’t recover until they are 30.

The 2021 Dasgupta review, The Economics of Biodiversity, concluded on education; “Every child in every country is owed the teaching of natural history, to be introduced to the awe and wonder of the natural world, to appreciate how it contributes to our lives.”

Education is critical to addressing challenges facing the natural world but, with one in four species in the UK threatened with extinction, time is running out.

Research from The Wildlife Trusts and UCL shows that spending time in nature has a hugely positive impact on children’s health and well-being. After taking part in Wildlife Trust-led activities:

  • 90% of children felt they learned something new about the natural world
  • 79% felt that their experience could help their school work
  • After their activities 84% of children felt that they were capable of doing new things when they tried
  • 79% of children reported feeling more confident in themselves
  • 81% agreed that they had better relationships with their teachers
  • 79% reported better relationships with their class-mates

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