Simon Wright MP writes… Creationism won’t be taught as fact – Fact!

New Free Schools will not be able to teach Creationism as fact. That sums up precisely what the rest of this article is about. If you just wanted a firm answer as to whether free schools will be able to teach Creationism in science classes, then feel under no pressure to read on. I won’t be offended.

A debate has arisen on this subject following rumours that the new Exemplar Free School intends to teach its students that Creationism is scientific fact. I can confirm, however, that this is not the case.

The 2013 Free Schools application process specifically says creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas cannot be taught as valid scientific theories.

Liberal Democrats respect the important role that faith plays in the lives of many families and communities up and down the country. We recognise and value the contribution that all faiths make to our society.

We also strongly support the rules that keep religious and theological teachings out of science lessons.

The Department for Education has rightly taken steps to ensure that the Exemplar Free School and indeed all new Free Schools will follow the rules and not teach pupils about creationism during science lessons.

The Exemplar Free School itself has evolved beyond the group whose application to open a Free School was rejected last year. The pastor of the Everyday Champions Church is no longer the lead proposer, and the group has expanded beyond its previous church base, consisting of both secularists and practising Christians.

In addition, the group’s approach to creationism and the teaching of evolution was explored thoroughly at interview and they made a clear and unambiguous commitment to comply with the very strict rules on the teaching of creationism.

Most importantly of all though, is the fact that Free School funding arrangements state that creationism cannot be taught in science lessons. So, if a Free School was suspected of breaking the rules it would be at risk of losing its funding.

Liberal Democrats take the education of our children very seriously, which is why we welcome the fact that Free Schools will be subject to Ofsted inspections, and that the Secretary of State has the power to intervene when there is suspicion that rules are being broken.

Our commitment to a balanced curriculum remains absolute. Students from all walks of life must be able to enjoy and benefit from the best education on offer. Liberal Democrats will continue to work to make this a reality in government.

* Simon Wright is the MP for Norwich South and PPS to the Minister of State for Families and Children, Sarah Teather

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  • mike cobley 19th Jul '12 - 4:39pm

    What about out-of-hours tuition? What about evangelical/creationists tutors being allowed to use school premises for the teaching of creationism/intelligent design? Can we be certain that this will not happen?

  • Keith Browning 19th Jul '12 - 4:59pm

    Why would anyone want to teach creationism in the 21st century – unless they were a US Republican voter or worked for Fox News.? Next they’ll be suggesting the world is flat??

  • So, they won’t be teaching Creationism as fact. Good.

    Will they also be giving a full, valid, and unbiased account of evolutionary theory to their students? Or will they be allowed to skimp on teaching fundamental biology, whilst following traditional Creationist tactics of misrepresenting the state of the scientific evidence?

  • Richard Dean 19th Jul '12 - 6:06pm

    Good! Well done. But some might teach creationism as fact in non-science classes, so Jack’s point is important – they need to teach evolution properly and as fact in science.

  • Peter Hayes 19th Jul '12 - 6:24pm

    Tried to comment but my Lib Dem forum account seems to have forgotten me.

  • Paul Holmes 19th Jul '12 - 6:27pm

    We went through all this nonsense when Blair first introduced the Academy programme and the massive expansion of state funded faith schools. We were assured then that the ‘rules would not allow it’ over Creationist and religious indoctrination -although Blair’s personal response to my concerns at PMQ’s was simply “well they get good exam results” -socially selective schools do of course.

    Yet Faith Academy’s were shown for example to be promulgating religion even through history lessons where victory in WW2 was apparently ‘the result of God being on our side’ -the sort of approach I, as a History teacher, used to point out when studying the Spanish Armada and the State Church’s then teaching that victory was down to the backing of the ‘Protestant God’ whereas a Spanish victory would have led to the teaching that the victory w as down to the ‘Roman Catholic God’.

    I am appalled that Liberal Democrat Minister’s/PPS etc are defending the expansion of Faith based ‘education’ at tax payers expense -even worse using money siphoned off from existing schools.

  • Peter Hayes 19th Jul '12 - 6:45pm

    OK seem to have got my LibDem account back.
    When I was a student in the 1960s I managed to avoid the religious assembly by, as a prefect, doing the late register. But if you are in a small cachement area such as a rural area you only have two options, a ‘free’ school with enhanced fundings and a council school who’s role in life is to take the rejects. A free religious school should not be allowed unless there is an adequate supply of alternatives.

  • Doesn’t this just leave the door open for them to say “we’re not allowed to teach you this ‘as fact’, but…” *wink, wink*. The point should be that what is taught in Sunday schools shouldn’t be in the school curriculum at all, in any form or under any guise, whether the magic words “not as fact” are added or not. (And who exactly is going to be checking the CCTV to see that the teachers are complying?)

  • Peter Watson 19th Jul '12 - 9:14pm

    As far as I can tell, this is about the application process: “In preparing your application it is important to note that … creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas must not be taught as valid scientific theories.”
    Surely this just means “If you’re going to teach kids that creationsim trumps evolution, make sure you don’t mention it in your application.”

  • Peter Watson 19th Jul '12 - 9:16pm

    As an aside, are we now celebrating the fact that it’s Liberal Democrat policy to stifle free speech (even when it’s nutty)? Doesn’t sound very liberal or democratic.

  • Will they be able to teach creationism as ‘fact’ in Religious Studies? And at the same time, will they have any obligation at all to teach the theory of evolution in science lessons?

  • Andrew Suffield 19th Jul '12 - 11:34pm

    Will they also be giving a full, valid, and unbiased account of evolutionary theory to their students?

    If any school did this it would be a marvel. Doing so would be a bit over the heads of most schoolteachers, let alone their pupils.

    They’ll get a brief, simplified, and somewhat wrong account, the same as any other pupil in a UK school.

  • Peter Watson 20th Jul '12 - 1:05am

    @Dave Page
    I was making a slightly tongue-in-cheek comment, and would hate to distract from the important issue of Free Schools, a policy which I wholeheartedly dislike. However, it did make me pause to think about freedom of speech and orthodoxy in education, especially when religious beliefs are thrown into the mix. How many of us who denounce creationism are really just ignorantly accepting as gospel the word of scientists instead of priests? And when free schools are allowed to ignore a national curriculum, where do we draw the lines? Will we ban the teaching of climate-change denial? What about holocaust denial in history lessons? What about sex education? What about equality?
    My fear is that the policy of free schools risks encouraging small social groups with strong views on these and other issues to become increasingly insular, and to have their world-view become ever more rigid as they are not challenged by exposure to alternative points of view. When one considers how difficult it can be to find people prepared to become school governors under the current system, then it is easy to imagine that religious groups are most likely to have the motivation and resources to maintain free schools in the longer term. I suspect that the policy appealed originally to tory visions of socially exclusive state-funded independent schools (private schooling without the fees), but how will Daily Mail readers respond if the result is their taxes paying for schools based around the fundamentalist mosques that already rile them?

  • Recalling that these are state-funded schools I think it’s really not unreasonable for the state to prevent wholly unscientific ideas being presented to their pupils as science.

    A more interesting question might be whether the state should intervene to prevent creationism being taught in private schools.

  • Peter Watson 20th Jul '12 - 8:43am

    Reference to science classes is a bit of a red herring since the DfE guidelines don’t refer to any particular subject on the curriculum: it appears to be stifling all discussion in schools of creationism, intelligent design or “similar ideas”, even in religious instruction. It is also interesting that creationism is the only such topic referred to the application process. Some religions have views with which many people are uncomfortable about the subjugation of women, the treatment of homosexuals, other religions, etc.. Any religious or ethnic group could selectively compile a history curriculum that fosters hatred or distrust of another.
    Regardless of all this, Simon Wright’s fundamental point in the article is misleading anyway. The title should be “Creationism won’t be mentioned by those applying to create free schools if they are planning to teach it”. Even if the guideline were applied to actual teaching, the loopholes are obvious: schools can simply ignore evolution or the big bang and state “We believe our god created the World” without referring to it as a scientific theory with any alternative views.
    I believe that at its heart, state education should be about the development of core skills and knowledge, and the promotion of integration and inclusivity. Free Schools seem to be a reform that allows education to move in the wrong direction.

  • Richard Church 20th Jul '12 - 9:18am

    Exemplar is not the only Christian free school that wants to promote creationism. Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland and Sevenoakes Christian School have both said that they will teach creationism in RE and assemblies, not in science lessons. Grindon Hall had previously said ‘we will teach creationism as fact’ so all that has changed is in which classes they will teach this ‘fact’.

    The problem is that the creationists have got their foot in the door to teaching superstition with taxpayers money, a door left ajar by Labour and pushed wider open by the coalition. Whether it is being taught as fact is not the only issue, these schools clearly intend to promote it, through whichever lessons they choose, as a serious and rational theory worthy of devoting precious time on their curriculum.

  • Sadly many people set up free schools not simply to provide children with a good education, but to promote their own world view among impressionable minds

  • I think Simon has been fairly clear. The school could teach creationism as fact in other lessons and then teach biology badly. But this can already happen – it is up to Ofsted and/or concerned parents to report them and give them a poor inspection result.

  • Peter Watson 20th Jul '12 - 10:26am

    The debate about free schools, or secular and religious education, should not be reduced to “evolution good, creation bad”. As Suzanne’s link shows, many clever and educated people can reconcile evolution and other scientific knowledge with belief in a divine creator. Equally, many atheists lack the understanding to do anything but accept scientific facts with the same blind faith as a religious zealot. Furthermore, there are many other commonly held beliefs that I would loathe to see being taught as science fact but which are firmly held by people who ridicule creationism: spiritualism, astrology, superstition, homeopathy, etc. The Daily Mail prints a horoscope for goodness sake.
    I have many concerns about free schools, and one is a fear that free schools will allow groups with a shared belief, however implausible, unsubstantiated or even offensive, to promote it in a closed environment with the exclusion of alternative viewpoints. We should not be supporting a reform to state education that encourages such insularity and segregation.

  • Peter Watson 20th Jul '12 - 10:49am

    “it is up to Ofsted and/or concerned parents to report them and give them a poor inspection result.”
    What if the parents are not concerned because they share the same belief? How effective are scheduled inspections twice a decade, especially if parents and teachers are conspiring?
    If a group believes that women should be subservient and have no need for academic qualifications, or that children will all live and work within a closed community, why would they care about poor inspection reports or a low rank in school league tables?
    How useful are the rules that these free schools must not break? We are told they can abandon the national curriculum and employ unqualified teachers, so what other freedoms do they have?
    Whilst the outcomes I fear are possible now if parents exercise a right to opt out of mainstream education, they should not be a feature of that mainstream education.

  • What is the sanction if a kid is taught Intelligent Design in a science lesson? Slap on wrists?

  • David Allen 20th Jul '12 - 1:21pm

    OK, so let’s let paedophiles run schools, that’ll be OK, provided we have strict rules that they must not teach it as fact, and they can’t cover it in science lessons.

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jul '12 - 10:33pm

    @Peter Chivall

    Agree with your description on the law regarding RE in the 1944 Act. RE in faith schools had to follow locally agreed stipulations. This ensured ‘education’ not catechesis in RE.

    I am very concerned that some Lib Dem posters on here may be confusing RE with RI ie: Religious instruction. I blame Gove and his inner circle for this.

    Perhaps because of Gove’s appalling treatment of Religious Studies GCSE by omitting it from his beloved EBacc, (it’s a bit too ‘modern’ for his taste, as a child may learn about a religion other than Christianity), his promotion of pet projects like King James Bibles in every school and now his Free School mission, this misapprehension is gaining currency.

    Good RE lessons should not be promoting creationism as fact but at the most, examining it as a phenomenon in contrast to mainstream Christian thinking.

    @Simon Wright: Why shouldn’t religious ideas be discussed in a Science lesson? I can see many areas for dialogue which would enhance learning – this is not the same as treating a religious belief as a physical, empirical and testable ‘fact’ in a science experiment.

    Lets not muddle the aims and purpose of different subjects in a school setting and then closing down any areas of potential learning.

  • Simon mcgrath 22nd Jul '12 - 7:09am

    @helen tad castle “I am very concerned that some Lib Dem posters on here may be confusing RE with RI ie: Religious instruction. I blame Gove and his inner circle for this.”
    Is there anything you don’t blame Gove for ?

  • Keith Browning 22nd Jul '12 - 7:44am

    The Arthur C Clarke ‘2001’ – black obelisk theory – seems as good as any other in helping us work out how we all got here. He has already been proven correct in many of his visions for the future. Does Arthur get an airing in either science or religious lessons. I expect not.

  • I am minded of the Academy School in South Yorkshire which was on TV for, amongst many other things, teaching creationism as fact but telling students that they would have to complete exam questions with answers following conventional theories.

    Creationists may not be able to peddle their romance as fact, but they can forward it as a theory amongst other theories, but state that their theory fits with the teaching of the bible and the bible is Gods own words. Thus, without stating it to be so, emphasising it catagorically as the truth.

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