Ocean Conservation Trust partners with Connect Academy Trust to put the Ocean at the centre of primary school curriculums

Ocean conservation charity, the Ocean Conservation Trust – which also runs Plymouth’s much loved National Marine Aquarium - has teamed up with the Connect Academy Trust to launch an exciting curriculum learning project which puts the Ocean at the centre of education.

Nicola Bridge, Head of Conservation Education and Communications for the charity, said: “Despite the Ocean representing the largest living space on the planet and being essential for the survival of all of us, it is notably missing from the current English National Curriculum, which is something we, as an Ocean conservation charity, feel strongly needs to change. The UK is a national and global leader in marine science, and Ocean related teaching should be an essential part of the core curriculum offering for all schools.

“The Ocean provides half of the oxygen we breathe, drives the weather and climate and is a valuable food source for much of the world, and to look after it for future generations, we need to create an Ocean literate generation – that is to say, a generation that understands the ways in which we are all inextricably connected to it, just as it is to us.”

In October a large-scale planning event saw 240 teaching staff from across the South West Academy area descend on the Aquarium (NMA) where they spent the morning working together to create a first-of-its-kind (in the UK) learning programme designed to integrate the Ocean into everyday teaching. Teachers from five schools, which are part of the Connect Academy Trust, participated in the planning sessions.

The Connect Academy Trust was formed in 2016, with the aim of providing a firm foundation for developing teachers and leaders in order to secure the best learning opportunities for its pupils. It operates a dynamic system in which each school is a giver and receiver of support – and this latest project, which is also supported by the Marine Biological Association, is one of its most ambitious yet.

Dubbed the ‘Connecting us with our Ocean’, project, it aims to develop a love and understanding of the importance of the Ocean in pupils, whilst inspiring and enabling staff to design their subject curriculums around the topic. It’s one that is notably absent from the current National Curriculum - something that the Ocean Conservation Trust finds concerning.

Stu Higgs, Schools Programme Manager for the Ocean Conservation Trust, added: “In England, the National Curriculum is very flexible, and it can be translated in many ways by different schools, allowing dynamic teacher input. However, as it has always had a terrestrial bias and is still currently framed towards terrestrial ecosystems - and in the primary science curriculum, excludes Ocean related topics altogether - many teachers have limited previous experience in teaching marine topics.

“With this in mind, we are delighted to have been approached by the Connect Academy Trust to work with them on this exciting planning session. Getting a cross-curricular Ocean themed learning programme into Plymouth schools will be a huge step in the right direction – not just for Ocean conservation, but for the blue economy too. There are many STEM career opportunities related to the Ocean and ensuring that school children are made aware of these from an early age will broaden their horizons when choosing a career path to follow later in life. We hope that many other schools across the country will follow suit in future.”

The Ocean Conservation Trust is a charity dedicated to connecting people to the Ocean and has been working with people across the city for the past 21 years via its centre of Ocean excellence, the National Marine Aquarium, as part of its programme of public and community engagement. The charity also delivers curriculum-based learning sessions to 30,000 school children a year in the South West, North East, and South Wales, both through the Aquarium and its national outreach hubs.

Stuart Bellworthy, CEO of the Connect Academy Trust, said: “All five of the Connect Academy Trust schools are very excited to be working with the Ocean Conservation Trust on the first project of this kind, introducing an Ocean-based curriculum for 4-11-year-olds into our schools. As a Trust, we are highly ambitious for all the children in our schools and see this as a wonderful opportunity to develop their understanding of Plymouth, our Ocean City, as well as deepening their knowledge of essential subjects such as ecology, science, geography and environmental issues.

“One of the advantages of being a Multi-Academy Trust is that we can work with organisations and charities such as the Ocean Conservation Trust, together with each school in the Connect Academy Trust, to develop our curriculum in exciting ways like this, and this collaboration will allow us to use cross-curricular topic work, which every year group will be undertaking as part of the ‘Connect with our Ocean’ project, officially starting in September 2020.”

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