In a letter to parents last year after controversy erupted around its blacking out of a GCSE science exam question – which is being disclosed today for the first time – Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School in Hackney said that the system of censoring exam questions ‘has successfully been in place within the charedi schools throughout England for many years, and to date has never posed a problem with the Examination Boards.’ In response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request submitted by the British Humanist Association (BHA), the state school also said that it teaches creationism ‘to all year groups throughout the school’ and that it ‘does not teach Sex education’. The BHA has expressed alarm that the situation has gone undetected for so long.
Other findings of the BHA’s FoI request include:
- In addition to admitting the longstanding nature of the practice and claiming that other schools have been doing likewise, suggesting that the issue is much more widespread than previously established, Yesodey Hatorah also said that it has no record of when this has happened in the past: ‘We do not keep a list of when papers are redacted and we have no written policy on redaction.’ Ofqual has been investigating the matter since the school’s behaviour was discovered last year. It recently told the BHA it is aware of one other school, an independent Charedi school in north London, that has similarly engaging in this practice, but is now questioning all the exam boards in order to establish the extent of the issue.
- The school says that it ‘teaches evolution in Jewish Studies.’ As the school is a maintained school it is legally required to teach the science national curriculum, which includes coverage of evolution in year ten and, from September, year six.
- However, the school also says that creationism ‘is taught to all year groups throughout the school in Jewish Studies.’ Government policy is clear that creationism should not be taught by state schools as scientifically valid in any subject. Coupled with recent comments made by the principal in the Telegraph, this policy seems to be being broken.
- The school has told the BHA that ‘The school does not teach Sex education because in practice all parents will exercise their statutory right to withdraw their children from Sex Education.’ This is in fact unlawful. As a maintained school, the school has to teach the aspects of sex education that appear in national curriculum science, namely anatomy, puberty and reproduction. Parents are not allowed to withdraw their children from this. Maintained schools are legally obliged to teach a sex and relationships education programme that includes information on sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDS, although parents can indeed withdraw their children from this.
- Finally, the school refused to provide any correspondence with Ofqual and exam boards, claiming that it is exempt from disclosure because such disclosure would be likely to prejudice a public authority (i.e. Ofqual and OCR) in ‘ascertaining whether any person is responsible for any conduct which is improper’ and in ‘ascertaining whether circumstances which would justify regulatory action in pursuance of any enactment exist or may arise’.
BHA Education Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘The school’s answers to our freedom of information request suggest that it is been breaking the law with respect to sex education and is contravening Government policy with respect to the teaching of creationism.
‘It is deeply concerning to hear from the school that it has been censoring exam questions for years and that this practice is widespread. Ofqual and the Government urgently need to get a handle on this situation and ensure that it is brought to a halt. We recently met with them both to discuss this matter and will be following the issue up with them today.’
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at email@example.com or on 078155 89 636.
The BHA is encouraging its supporters to write to their MPs about this matter: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/what-you-can-do-to-help/write-mp-censored-exam-questions-creationist-nurseries-zoo/
Read the school’s letter to parents dated 15 October: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/OCR-science-paper-information-13.doc
Read the previous BHA story, ‘Ofqual and exam boards collude with “faith” schools to censor questions on evolution’: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/03/02/ofqual-exam-boards-collude-faith-schools-censor-questions-evolution/
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.