‘CSI’ techniques come to the classroom in high-tech new Environmental Science A-level

Thursday 30 Jun 2016

Students will learn how DNA is used to combat the multi-billion pound illegal timber trade in a brand new Environmental Science A-level from exam board AQA.

In this groundbreaking new technology, DNA samples are taken from timber products such as logs, sawn wood or furniture. These are then used to identify the tree species, its country of origin and whether it was traded legally.

It's one of many high-tech ways of monitoring and managing the environment to feature in AQA's plans for the new Environmental Science courses. Others methods include:

  • using drones to monitor crop pests and track wildlife poachers
  • using satellite surveys to monitor water resources and search for new mineral reserves
  • using GPS to track wildlife such as whales, sharks and migrating birds.

The new AS and A-level put an emphasis on sustainability, and reflect the most important current issues including global climate change, marine wildlife conservation, future mineral supplies, future energy supplies (wind, solar and nuclear power) and fracking for gas.

The courses will help students develop vital skills for environmentalists, including collecting and analysing information, spotting gaps in our knowledge, planning further studies and drawing conclusions based on the facts. These are also vital skills for any future higher education course or career path that a student may choose.

Richard Genn, AQA's Lead Developer for A-level Environmental Science, said:

"Climate change, diminishing resources and failing energy security are amongst the most critical issues facing the world today. Planet Earth didn't come with a user guide, so it's vital that we equip the current generation of students with the right knowledge and skills so they understand the impact that decisions we make now will have on future generations.

"Environmental Science is a rapidly developing subject, and technology plays a crucial role. This new course is designed to be relevant and topical so that new issues can be studied as soon as they emerge – what is on the news today could be studied in the classroom tomorrow."

Mike Childs, Head of Policy, Research and Science at Friends of the Earth, said:

"Today's students are tomorrow's decision-makers. They will sadly inherit a much degraded planet. If they and future generations are to make decisions that secure a safe, clean and healthy planet, our schools must empower young people with the skills and knowledge they need to make smart decisions when they enter the world of work. AQA's new A-level will help in this."

The plans for AQA's new AS and A-level Environmental Science specifications, which will be available to teach from September 2017, have been submitted to the regulator Ofqual for accreditation.