A highlight of the Reading Botany 2019 celebrations will be our symposium, “The Big Botany Challenge! How to promote passion for plants in our schools?” 

This symposium will take place on Friday 8th November 2019 at University of Reading and aims to bring together scientists, teachers, education and industry specialists and associated organisations to present and debate the most effective ways to enhance the coverage of plants in secondary biology education.

Plants are regularly undervalued across society and often poorly represented in our school and university teaching resulting in the low perception of plants by many university students. This all has knock-on implications for a critical botanical skills shortage in ecology, conservation, taxonomy, botanic gardens and other related industries. This theme, often referred to as “Plant Blindness“, also means young people lose out on developing relationships with plants as an integral part of daily life with amazing stories to tell. The almost intangible fascination in the awe and wonder of plants is also often missing from plant education at all levels and there is a growing body of evidence that contact with plants and nature contributes vitally to the mental well-being of students.

Our symposium will provide a forum to debate these ideas and the most effective ways to encourage and nurture the next generation of botanists and plant-aware scientists and will start with keynote presentations followed by five interrelated sessions:

  1. Fascinating plants and their stories: demonstrating how plants make the world go round by introducing some of the plants central to the solution of global environmental issues such as climate emergency, deforestation, ecological restoration and sustainable living, and also those plants which can inspire and get people hooked on the wonder of plant life;
  2. Career scenarios: highlighting the great diversity of plant-related opportunities not always appreciated by teachers and students and even careers advisers, e.g. when students make their higher education choices;
  3. Plants in the secondary curriculum: critical analysis of biology curricula in our secondary schools and asking “is it fit for purpose?  And if not, “how we can do this better?”;
  4. Showcasing best practice resources: celebrating great plant resources for teachers and how these interlink with the curriculum and can inspire young students and identifying gaps in coverage; and
  5. Symposium next steps and practical outputs: how to make secondary education a better place for plants!


The Symposium Committee:

  • Dr Jonathan Mitchley (Associate Professor of Field Botany, University of Reading);
  • Sue Townsend (Biodiversity Learning Manager, Field Studies Council);
  • Dr Tim Utteridge (Head of Identification and Naming (Asia Team), Royal Botanic Gardens Kew);
  • Dr Angela Hall (STEM Education Consultant);
  • John-Paul Flavell and Aaron Mills, Biology Teachers;
  • Professor John Warren (Chair of Training & Education Committee, Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland);
  • Professor Julie Hawkins (Professor of Plant Systematics and Evolution, University of Reading);
  • Dr Alastair Culham (Associate Professor of Botany, Herbarium Curator, University of Reading);
  • Susan Medcalf (Botanical consultant, RSK Biocensus);
  • Professor Simon Mortimer (Professor of Environmental Land Management, University of Reading);
  • Professor Frank Mayle (Professor of Tropical Palaeoecology, University of Reading); and
  • Andrew Happle (Lecturer in Secondary Science Education, University of Reading).

We welcome participation from all those involved in teaching plant related material at secondary level including teachers, teacher trainers, curriculum designers and examination boards, text book and other resource providers and careers advisers, as well as those further up the botanical education pipeline including universities, museums and gardens and plant science employers and publishers.

Registration is not yet open but to find out more email: j.mitchley@reading.ac.uk

You can also write to: Dr Jonathan Mitchley, Reading Botany Team, Room 110, Harborne Building, Whiteknights, RG6 6AS

Social media presence:

@readingbotany | @RNGherb | #plants2019