Public pressure works. Readers who followed my earlier suggestion and backed BHA’s Write-to-your-MP campaign, take heart. If you haven’t yet done so, do it now; the message has been updated to cover the most recent developments. And all of us, take note. Publicity, and public reaction, do make a difference.
BHA has told us that the Oxford-Cambridge-RSA Examination Board has reversed its earlier policy of allowing schools to censor its questions because of their religious beliefs, and I do not believe that this would have happened without exposure and public outcry.
Last summer we discovered that two schools had redacted questions before the students sat the exams. We immediately launched malpractice investigations and brought the issue to the attention of the Regulator, Ofqual.
We also alerted Ofsted and the Department for Education as we felt that it raised more general concerns that extended beyond matters of assessment, to the delivery of the National Curriculum and student entitlement. We also raised the issue with our fellow Awarding Bodies.
We have now been able to consider our position and have concluded that as a matter of policy schools should not be permitted to tamper with question papers prior to a student sitting an exam (in cases where changes are required to facilitate disabled candidate access, adjustments are made by the Awarding Body).
(Notice, by the way, the reference to two schools. As far as I know, only one of them, Yesodey Hatorah, had become public knowledge.)
There’s more. Ofqual,the Government body responsible for examination standards, now says
Having looked into the issue, we concluded that while the practice was very rare, it should not be allowed.
Denying learners access to all the questions on a paper prevents the candidate achieving their full potential and therefore disadvantages them. It also threatens the validity of the qualification.
If awarding organisations suspect that schools or centres are redacting exam papers in the future we would expect them to act in the same way as they would for any other case of malpractice.
And more. As BHA reports, the Government has revised the single Academies model funding agreement to bring it in line with the Free Schools model funding agreement in preventing Academies from teaching pseudoscience and to require the teaching of evolution.
Two cheers at best. These requirements apply only to new Academies, not to those already agreed. Nor does it apply to those that are part of chains (yes, we have chains of schools, like chains of supermarkets, in Con-Dem England). And a further regulation for new individual Free Schools says
The Academy Trust must ensure that so far as is reasonably practicable and consistent with [faith-based admissions, Religious Education and Collective Worship] and the Equality Act 2010, the policies and practices adopted by the Academy (in particular regarding curriculum, uniform and school food) enable pupils of all faiths and none to play a full part in the life of the Academy, and do not disadvantage pupils or parents of any faith or none [emphasis added].
Ominous language. What if a school claims that it is not practical to teach evolution, or that its ethos requires creationism to be taught as sacred truth in Religious Education? And a further requirement “that principles are promoted which support fundamental British values” raises other concerns, presupposing as they do that Government has the right to define such values.
Nonetheless, the take-home message is clear. Keep pushing. We are not faced, as we should be, with an open door, but neither are we face with one that is securely bolted against us. Numerous issues, which I have mentioned many times, remain, but both Government and other bodies are to some extent at least responsive to public opinion. It is up to us to keep on reminding them that we, the defenders of science, are part of that public.
Photo ALAMY from here