If a school advises pupils to ignore exam questions on evolution, and considers evolution, homosexual relationships and social media to go against its ethos, does this school sound like a ‘good’ school? The British Humanist Association (BHA) has complained to Ofsted about the fact that Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School, a state-maintained Charedi Jewish secondary school in Hackney, received this grade in its Ofsted inspection last month. The inspection did not mention either evolution or sex education, in spite of well-publicised concerns about both after it came to light that the school had, in the past, been censoring exam questions on evolution.
In October last year, it came to light that Yesodey Hatorah had been censoring GCSE biology examinations to black out questions on evolution before pupils had a chance to see them. In March it emerged that Yesodey Hatorah had been doing this for years, that it ‘teaches evolution in Jewish Studies’, that creationism ‘is taught to all year groups throughout the school in Jewish Studies’ (in spite of Government policy that creationism should not be taught as scientifically valid in any subject), and 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’ (in spite of the fact that the school is legally obliged to teach about anatomy, puberty and reproduction as part of national curriculum science, from which parents have no right of withdrawal, as well as sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDS, which parents can withdraw their children from).
Concern was also expressed that Ofqual and the relevant exam board initially accepted the censorship of exam questions, but after some pressure from the BHA and its supporters, Ofqual and all the exam boards declared that such censorship would no longer be permitted.
Ofsted has been looking at the breadth and balance of schools’ curriculums more closely recently as a result of the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal. Some of the schools that were criticised during that scandal were found to have not been teaching evolution or sex and relationships education properly.
Against this backdrop, it was surprising that the school’s inspection in September, which was published in October, not only found the school to be ‘good’, but does not mention evolution, creationism or sex and relationships education at all. This omission has only become more glaring as following a recent interview by the Hackney Citizen of the principal of the school, Rabbi Avraham Pinter, in which he says: ‘“If we can’t redact (questions), then we won’t redact them.” Nevertheless, Pinter made clear that his pupils will continue to be advised against answering certain exam questions, and that this practice is supported by parents at the school. “Our children will be aware of which questions they should be answering and which ones they shouldn’t be,” he said. Asked whether the Darwinian theory of evolution, which is a compulsory part of the national curriculum, was among the topics that were at odds with the school’s ethos, Pinter replied: “Yes, it is.” Questions about homosexual relationships and social media were also cited by Pinter as topics of concern to the school’s ethos.’
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘Every young person is entitled to a broad and balanced education, including understanding evolution’s central role in biology and that it is the only evidence-based view of how life came to be. The Government has made it clear that if a school teaches creationism as scientifically valid, then that, in its view, would be unbalanced. Equally, all the best evidence shows that full and comprehensive sex and relationships education leads to the best outcomes for young people in terms of sexual health and wellbeing.
‘How can it be right that a school, never mind about a state school, can deny pupils a broad and balanced education in these important areas, and yet still be deemed by Ofsted to be ‘good’? We have asked Ofsted how this happened and why these issues are not mentioned in its report, and are currently awaiting a reply.’
Ofsted is currently consulting on a new inspection framework for schools, including asking whether the curriculum should be a top-level graded judgment. The BHA will be responding saying yes to this consultation.
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 078155 89 636.
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
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on sex and relationships education: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-education/
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.