Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Creationism In UK Schools: Letter to Andrew Lansley MP

Andrew Lansley MP
On the 22nd March I sent our local MP the following email, specifically raising a concern regarding the teaching and promotion of Creationism in UK schools;

Dear Mr Lansley 
I am writing as your constituent to express concern about the need for the Government to take a robust response on three recent issues that have arisen with respect to evolution and young earth creationism in state funded schools. I am concerned that this is currently not the case. In particular, there are three separate issues that have been the cause of recent controversy in the media and which I would like to bring to your attention: 
1. Last year it was discovered that Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School, a Charedi Jewish state secondary school in Hackney, had censored exam questions due to religious concerns. More recently it has come to light that a Charedi private school has also done this. These questions are widely reported to have been on evolution and might have also covered sex education. Worryingly, when this came to light, OCR (the exam board) and Ofqual accepted it - however I understand that Ofqual are now reconsidering the matter, and are investigating whether this kind of behaviour has happened in other schools, which is welcome. 
The pupils at these schools were denied the marks in the exam and presumably also denied the relevant knowledge in the classroom. I think that this is a potential breach of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which says that 'States Parties shall. [contribute] to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world and [facilitate] access to scientific and technical knowledge'. Ofqual's initial stance also might conflict with their statutory duty to 'have regard to the reasonable requirements of relevant learners', which in practice likely includes seeing the exam questions concerned. 
2. Recently the British Humanist Association has discovered that 67 nurseries are receiving state funding through the scheme to provide free places to two-four year olds, in spite of teaching pseudoscience which would make it unacceptable for them to gain state funding through any other programme (for example as Free Schools). Amongst them are, for example, the Accelerated Christian Education schools, which are not only pseudoscientific but also homophobic and misogynistic. There are reports that at least one of the ACE schools is using its nursery funding to reduce entry fees for the attached private school. I think this is unacceptable. I understand the Government are currently investigating this matter and would like to encourage them to stop this funding. 
3. The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) has recently awarded its Quality Badge to Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, a creationist zoo in Bristol - thereby endorsing it as a place for school trips. The Quality Badge scheme was set up by the Department for Children, Schools and Families in 2008. The scheme is intended to recognise 'good quality learning outside the classroom'. But it is clearly not good quality learning to teach creationism as a scientific theory, as Noah's Ark Zoo Farm does. Disappointingly, the Government has refused to put pressure on CLOtC over this matter. The Zoo should not have received this endorsement. 
The Government has a very clear policy that every young person in state schools should learn about evolution, and this is reflected by the fact that it is putting evolution on the primary national curriculum, and made it a requirement for Free Schools to teach evolution. It is equally clear that young earth creationism and intelligent design are not scientifically valid and should not be taught as such. The Government has a policy of rejecting creationist groups that apply for funding as Free Schools and has precluded Free Schools from teaching pseudoscience. 
It is therefore concerning to see these three situations arise where what is happening seems to run counter to Government policy. I would like to ask if you would make representations on my behalf to Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, Ofqual Chief Executive Glenys Stacey and CLOtC Chief Executive Beth Gardner on these important matters. 
Yours sincerely,
Mr Andy Pellew
On the 16th April he responded, here's the response in full;
Dear Mr Pellew, 
Thank you for contacting me about evolution and young earth creationism in state funded schools. I hope to be able to allay your concerns by explaining below Government policy in this area. 
First of all, the Government is clear that creationism should not form part of any science curriculum or be taught as a scientific alternative to accepted scientific theories. Ministers expect to see evolution and its foundations topics fully included in any science curriculum, and I welcome that expectation.  Religious education is an appropriate area of the curriculum where topics such as creationism and intelligent design can be explored as part of developing an understanding of different beliefs. 
The independent examinations regulator, Ofqual, is responsible for regulating how awarding organisations, designing and delivering examinations and securing standards. Ofqual has investigated the practice of redacting, or blacking out, exam paper questions for religious or other reasons with the awarding organisations that offer GCSEs and A levels. It has concluded that while this practice is very rare, it should not be allowed. It has now written to all awarding organisations setting out its position on the redaction of exam paper questions. The letter is available at http://tinyurl.com/p7yglca. 
I agree that denying students access to all the questions on a paper prevents them achieving their full potential and disadvantages them when compared with students in other schools. It also threatens the validity of the qualification. If awarding organisations suspect that exam centres are redacting questions from exam papers, Ofqual expects the awarding organisation to act in the same way as it would for any other type of malpractice, by investigating the matter and if appropriate imposing sanctions. Ofqual's position is supported by the relevant exam boards. 
As regards early years funding, all providers in receipt of early years funding must follow clear standards to ensure children are taught the key skills they need to get a good start in life. They are inspected and if any failings are found the Government has the power to take action to enforce the standards.  I know that the Department for Education (DfE) is aware of the concerns that you raise.  You may be interested to know that the DfE is currently consulting on new statutory guidance to local authorities about their early years role. Please do contribute to this. The consultation is available at: http://tinyurl.com/punj2yo. 
Regarding the points you raise on the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtc), it is my understanding that the organisation is completely independent from Government. DfE does not provide funding for them, nor is it involved in deciding which organisations are accredited by the Council. It is entirely a decision for the CLOtC as to which organisations merit their quality badge. 
Although organisations such as Noah's Ark Farm are free to make their resources available to schools, DfE has made it clear that all state-funded schools must teach science, and that creationism and intelligent design have no place in any science curriculum. 
I do hope this is reassuring. Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. 
Yours sincerely,
Andrew Lansley
The Rt Hon Andrew Lansley CBE MP
Leader of the House of Commons & Member of Parliament for South Cambridgeshire