To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of introducing a Nature Premium for children to help tackle inequalities of access to nature.
12 March 2021
We recognise that outdoor activity and access to nature is a fundamental part of childhood which supports children’s mental health and wellbeing and understanding of the importance of the natural world. We also know that some children have good access to natural spaces whilst others do not, such as those living in areas of high urban disadvantage.
The national curriculum includes content in different subjects which promotes understanding of the natural world. Primary science and geography give pupils a firm foundation for the further study of the natural environment in secondary school, through teaching about climate, the habitats of plants and animals and how environments can change, which can include positive and negative impacts of human actions. In secondary school, pupils continue to study ecosystems, including positive and negative human interactions with ecosystems and their impact on biodiversity, and are taught about how human and physical processes interact to influence and change landscapes, environments, and the climate. The teaching of this content can be supported by direct contact with the natural environments.
We want headteachers to have as much discretion as possible over how they use their funding. It is for schools to decide how to teach the curriculum and what wider pastoral and extra-curricular activity to put in place, based on the needs of their pupils and drawing on evidence of effective practice. Schools’ core funding is rising per financial year by £2.6 billion in 2020-21, £4.8 billion in 2021-22 and £7.1 billion in 2022-23, compared to 2019-20 funding levels.
To support children from disadvantaged backgrounds to have better access to natural environments, the department has provided funding for the ‘Children and Nature Programme’, working alongside Natural England and the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs. The programme is supporting three delivery projects which aim to demonstrate and improve understanding of the effectiveness of interventions in nature, particularly for schools with the highest proportions of disadvantaged pupils in England.
We also recognise the important role wraparound childcare and other out-of-school activities, such as outdoor education, can play in providing enriching activities which support children’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. That is why we have ensured, for the duration of the national lockdown, that these activities have been able to stay open for all children eligible to attend school on site, where it is to support certain essential purposes, and for vulnerable children and young people under any circumstance.
As of 8 March 2021, in line with the wider return of pupils to school, these settings are now able to open for all children. Vulnerable children and young people can continue to attend under any circumstance, with parents of other children able to access this provision for their children where it is:
- Reasonably necessary to support them work, seek work, undertake education or training, address a medical need or to attend a support group.
- Being used as part of their child’s efforts to obtain a regulated qualification, meet the entry requirements for an education institution, or to undertake exams and assessments.
- Being used by electively home educating parents as part of their arrangements for their child to receive a suitable full-time education.
As set out in the ‘COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021’ guidance, we have also committed to ensure all children will be able to access outdoor education and activity provision under any circumstance, from 29 March, in line with when schools close for the Easter holidays. This guidance is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-response-spring-2021.
We are also exploring the option of introducing a new GCSE in Natural History after receiving a proposal from the exam board OCR. We have had an initial discussion on the proposal with OCR. We have made no commitment to introduce the GCSE at this stage. We, and the independent qualifications regulator Ofqual, will determine whether the proposal meets all the necessary conditions to sit alongside our rigorous suite of reformed GCSE qualifications.