Where Is “The Ocean” In The Science Curriculum, In The UK?

If you type the word “ocean” into the search bar for the biology specification that my state school uses to teach its 1,500 pupils, you will find only one match (AQA, 2021). This means that the word “ocean” only comes up once in the whole 5-year-curriculum program my pupils, and many across the UK follow whilst at secondary school.

The exam board, used by my colleagues and I, is the most popular in the UK and makes more than 3.5 million exam entries every year (WHSmith blog, 2014).

The topic in which the word “ocean” is embedded, is in is the “Sustainable Fisheries” pointer within the ecology topic (pg.74, AQA, 2021), a topic that is only accessible to students that do triple science (this is less than half of the pupils at my school) and only relates to how oceans help feed humans.

As a new teacher in her first Early Career Teaching (ECT) year, I was shocked.

The ocean can be applied to nearly every topic of ecology in which the Sustainable Fisheries point is included (including communities, adaptations, interdependence, global warming, and the carbon cycle) as around 80% of all life is found in the ocean (Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology). Plus, links can be made to many biology subtopics and the remaining sciences. For example, the chemistry of the oceans is becoming increasingly important in terms of changing pH and ocean bleaching.

Another thing that shocked me was the physics topic of waves, which does not mention the ocean. However, the ability to calculate wave speed, wavelength and frequency has to be known.

As only one example, if concepts such as wave speed could be linked to oceans, the importance of this calculation could be acknowledged and linked to essential STEM careers like becoming a marine environment economist, lifeguard, ocean engineer, aquaculture worker and oceanographer (Busted Cubicle, 2021 & Monster Career Advice 2022).

Many students choose marine biology at University, and marine biology has a very competitive career field. This is shown and presented by Exeter, St Andrews, Plymouth University which are some of the top universities to study Marine Biology in the UK. This shows there is a passion to learn about the ocean when students pick what they want to devote their education and research to, and then embark on a lifetime of work towards it.

In Plymouth, the UK’s first ‘ocean curriculum’ was launched in 2020 (Green News). Developed by The Ocean Conservation Trust (OCT), to foster pupils’ marine conservation passion. With ‘blue recovery*’ in mind, it looks at key oceanic discussions that can be used in the biology classroom to connect students to the ocean. Plus, it links to core subjects like English and Mathematics, creating an immersive environment that links areas/subjects of education.

How the seas link to the oceans, ocean-related projects can aid in holistic education and should be supported by teachers and exam boards across schools.

*Blue recovery - looking at priorities ocean so the world can recover from the economic crisis we are in after the COVID-19 pandemic.

On a personal level, my school is three miles from the River Severn which discharges into the Bristol Channel, which links to the Celtic sea and is how water has a route into the Atlantic Ocean. Three miles from seeing the second-highest tidal range in the world.

Many of my pupils go to the seaside a few times a year and know nothing about it and its importance to connecting oceans, biodiversity and world health.

Pupils who live by the sea do not know how lucky they are to watch, feel and experience this big body of water on their doorsteps (Blue Mind, Wallace, 2014).

Education is key for this. I hope ocean-related programs will be implemented at more schools, especially those with such a strong and close link like mine, and there are many! After all, the UK is an Island!


Written by Olivia Elliott (@ollieelliott9)


Teacher of Secondary Science in the South West














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