Further pressure on government to commit to teaching of evolution in academy schools

Further pressure has been put on the government to explain how it will prevent religious, state-maintained ‘free schools’ from teaching creationism outside of the religious education curriculum, and if it will require such schools to teach evolution in science. BHA distinguished supporter and vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, Dr Julian Huppert MP, asked a formal parliamentary question of the Secretary of State for Education to comment on his policy on these points. Responding, Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP stated:

‘Academies and free schools will benefit from having freedom over the curriculum they deliver. However, we have been clear that creationism should not form part of any science curriculum or be taught as a scientific alternative to accepted scientific theories. We expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum. Under the Government’s planned reforms to school inspection, there will be stronger focus on teaching. Teachers will be expected to demonstrate that their subject knowledge is secure. If creationism is being taught as a scientific fact in science or any other areas of the curriculum outside denominational RE and collective worship, this would be noted in the Ofsted report.’

Commenting on the government’s response, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘Through its Academies and Free Schools, the government has embarked on a programme which will entrench religious privilege in our education system, providing ever more scope for inequality and the dissemination of religious doctrine in a state-funded service. It is easy to see the appeal of Academies to certain religious groups, not only because they have freedom to discriminate in employment and admissions but because of the considerable latitude they have over the syllabus taught, which would in practice permit schools to promote religious dogma in place of objective teaching on issues such as creationism.

‘Despite the government’s statement in favour of evolution, there is no requirement even for community schools which follow the National Curriculum to teach evolution in science at primary level. It is difficult to see how the government will ensure that the potentially thousands of existing and new schools, lifted out of the National Curriculum altogether through its Academies programme, will teach what is probably the most important idea underlying biological science. This, combined with the threat of groups running schools who willingly purport anti-scientific theories which are not supported by evidence as fact, creates a new threat to the teaching of evolution and school science more generally.

‘When we met with the Minister, earlier this year, he was unequivocal in his commitment to ensuring that all students gain a strong grasp of evolutionary theory. We are pleased that the Government have announced some of the ways that they will be responding to this need and look forward to working with them in the future to ensure that this need is met effectively.’

Notes

Parliamentary question, answered on 22nd March 2011:

Dr Huppert: To ask the Secretary of State for Education what his policy is on (a) ensuring that free schools are not permitted to teach creationism outside the religious education curriculum and (b) requiring evolution to be taught as a science in such schools. [39598]

Mr Gibb [holding answer 10 February 2011]: Academies and free schools will benefit from having freedom over the curriculum they deliver. However, we have been clear that creationism should not form part of any science curriculum or be taught as a scientific alternative to accepted scientific theories. We expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum. Under the Government’s planned reforms to school inspection, there will be stronger focus on teaching. Teachers will be expected to demonstrate that their subject knowledge is secure. If creationism is being taught as a scientific fact in science or any other areas of the curriculum outside denominational RE and collective worship, this would be noted in the Ofsted report.

For further comment or information, contact Andrew Copson on 07534 248596.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.