The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed alarm after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed that Ofqual, OCR and other exam boards have been reaching agreements with at least one and seemingly several state funded ‘faith’ schools to allow them to black out exam questions on evolution, where such questions are deemed incompatible with the schools’ religious ethos.
The information came to light after Yesoday Hatorah Senior Girls School, a state-maintained Charedi Jewish secondary school in Hackney, was found last October to have blacked out a question on evolution in pupils’ GCSE science exams. An FOI request found the exam board in question, OCR, writing to Ofqual, the Office for Qualifications and Examinations Regulation: ‘In ourdeliberations we have reached the conclusion the most proportionate and reasonable approach would be to come to an agreement with the centres concerned which will protect the future integrity of our examinations– by stipulating how, when and where the redactions take place – but at the same time respect their need to do this in view of their religious beliefs. We believe we need to be mindful of the fact that if we do not come to an agreement with the centres we could be seen as creating a barrier to accessing the examinations for the candidates.’
This response, and other correspondence, seemingly makes clear that multiple schools are in fact involved. This almost certainly means that Yesoday Hatorah and any other maintained schools involved are are not meeting their legal obligations to follow the national curriculum, which has modules on evolution in year ten and, from September, in year six. Government policy is that every state school must teach evolution and no school should teach creationism or intelligent design as scientifically valid.
The BHA has contacted the Government to seek urgent assurances that it will intervene to stop the issue from reoccurring. BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘The Government has been consistently clear that evolution must be taught as the established scientific explanation for how life came to be. This point has been reinforced by its adding evolution to the primary national curriculum – reflecting how central the topic is to biology. For at least one state school and probably several to black out exam questions and deny pupils this essential knowledge is simply unacceptable and we will be taking action to challenge any agreement reached with exam boards on this matter.’
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 078155 89 636.
Read the previous BHA story, ‘BHA expresses alarm as two state schools challenge teaching of evolution’: https://humanism.org.uk/2013/10/10/bha-expresses-alarm-two-state-schools-challenge-teaching-evolution/
Read the ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ statement, coordinated by the BHA, from 30 scientists including Sir David Attenborough, Professor Richard Dawkins, Sir Paul Nurse and Professor Michael Reiss, the Association for Science Education, the British Science Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering and Ekklesia at http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on countering creationism: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/countering-creationism
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.