Thursday, 23 September 2010

No creationism in schools, government assures BHA - but is this enough?

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A perspective not coming to a science lesson near you, say the Government
Responding to a letter sent by leading scientists and educators, in conjunction with the British Humanist Association, the Department for Education has stressed that creationism has no place in school science lessons. The key part of the letter, which you can see in full on the BHA site (PDF), reads:
"All schools, including faith schools, are required to teach science. The current science programmes of study set out the legal requirements of the science National Curriculum. They focus on the nature of science as a subject discipline, including what constitutes scientific evidence and how this is established. Students learn about scientific theories as established bodies of scientific knowledge with extensive supporting evidence. Creationism and intelligent design are sometimes claimed to be scientific theories.

This is not the case as they have no underpinning scientific principles, or explanations, and are not accepted by the science community as a whole. Creationism and intelligent design therefore do not form part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and therefore should not be taught as part of science."
It does, of course, read as a firm assertion that creationism and ID are not permitted in school science lessons, but it doesn't explain how this will be ensured. As is addressed in the letter, the new government have dropped plans to make teaching of evolution compulsory in primary schools. Responding to the government, the BHA's James Gray says firmer assurances are needed:
"While we welcome any public statement that the coalition government opposes the teaching of creationism, these assurances do not go nearly far enough. We need clear safeguards, such as legislative change and statutory guidance, to ensure not only that evolution is placed at the heart of the science syllabus for all ages but also that is not contradicted by religious instruction.

We know that in some 'faith' schools pupils' understanding of evolution is already being undermined by highly doctrinal and insular RE lessons that present religious myth as scientific fact. If this is happening now in maintained schools, it does not bode well for the new religious 'free schools' which do not have to follow the National Curriculum and are outside local authority control."
As Gray points out, one worry is that, in some religious schools, what is taught in science lessons is actively undermined in RE lessons. As I wrote in a recent post on the Guardian science blogs, that's one way of "teaching the controversy" about evolution – children are supposedly left to make their own minds up between what they learn in science and the creation stories they learn in religion lessons. Perhaps assurance is needed that science teachers will not teach evolution in a way that this non-existent "controversy" is a legitimate one?
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