Evolution censored from exam questions in publicly funded English schools, with government permission

Jewish faith school caught censoring questions on science exam papersEngland’s largest examination board, OCR, has agreed to let publicly funded schools censor (“redact” in official sanitised language) examination questions involving evolution if they offend the religious sensibilities of the schools concerned. You will find more details here and here and here. The Sunday Times story on the subject neglects to mention the key fact of Government involvement, but quotes further disturbing comment from the exam board.

Last summer, Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ High School in north London blacked out questions on evolution from science exams. OCR investigated the matter, concluded that no student had gained any unfair advantage from this procedure, and took no further action. Yesodey Hatorah follows Charedi Judaism, an extreme sect that does not allow access to television or social media, and does not encourage its daughters to take part in further education.

We now have the exam board’s explanation of their position, and the explanation is far worse than the offence. It is a pre-emptive cringe in the face of censorship. The Government colludes, confirming long-standing fears that its official commitment to teaching real science is a hollow sham.

We know all this because the National Secular Society raised the Yesodey Hatorah incident with England’s Department for Education under the Freedom of Information Act, and was told that a “proportional and reasonable response” had been agreed with the school. According to the NSS,

 The Department’s response reveals that that faith schools will still be permitted to redact questions they don’t approve of as long as this is done in collaboration with the exam board. Setting out the response to the uncovering of exam malpractice, OCR wrote to the [governmental] exam regulator Ofqual, stating:

 “In our deliberations 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.”

 But maybe this is just a one-off? No. As the Sunday Times reports, the Chief Executive of OCR also said that such redaction had

 “significantly wider implications and could apply to other faith schools”

 So the right of these schools to censor exams is to be respected, provided exam board agrees, but the exam board, as a prelude to negotiating with the schools, has announced that it is going to respect their need to censor in view of their religious beliefs, because otherwise

 “we could be seen as creating a barrier to accessing the examinations for the candidates.”

 There ought to be “a barrier to accessing the examinations for the candidates,” and for the best of all possible reasons. One of the most important functions of the exam system is to impose generally recognised standards on the schools whose students take those exams. To allow schools to censor the exposure of their students to the central concept of the life sciences is to default on this vital function.

Indeed, Government policy relies on the examination boards carrying out this function. The Education Minister assures us that as of this September, Yesodey Hatorah, a voluntary aided school, will be required to teach evolution because it is part of the National Curriculum. However, the Free Schools being so recklessly created at the moment are not required to follow that Curriculum. The Government tells us that such a requirement is unnecessary, because the Free Schools will have to follow good educational policy, in order to prepare their pupils for exams.

Exams which, as is now clear, the schools will be allowed to censor.

 

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on March 4, 2014, in Creationism, Education, Politics, Religion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. How utterly disgraceful. At a time in human evolution when we should be leaving behind these nonsensical bronze-age myths, it appears we’re encouraging young children to adopt them further! Who? Why? and How? are questions any sane members of society need to be asking, for the sake of all our futures.

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    • Iron age. If Genesis had indeed been written by a historical Moses according to the biblical chronology, that would indeed have been bronze age, but it is clear that the present text was put together much, much later.

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  2. Reblogged this on James's space and commented:
    The news of Faith schools being allowed to censor (redact) questions on evolution is nothing short of scandalous and we need a full and frank disclosure from the exam boards on which boards condo0ned this and for how long this practice has been going on!

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  3. “does not encourage its daughters to take part in further education”

    How lovely. Why even bother teaching them the alphabet?

    The words “faith” and “school” should not be attached. These are two opposing realms of reality. They do not belong side-by-side.

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