UK Free Schools Will Now Be Protected From Creationism

When it comes to the issue of science, the UK is fortunate in rarely having to mount any kind of serious defense or needing to resort to litigation when combating Creationists. Such people are simply laughed at, as they shuffle off to the fringes of the public sphere. Unfortunately, there is much to be cautious about. A small survey back in 2009 found that as many as half of the UK population do not believe in evolution and as high as 22% prefer varying levels of Creationism or Intelligent Design. How this can be, when these results are a slice of the population far larger than the numbers of Evangelicals and Muslims combined (among whom such views are most prevalent), is a cause of some debate. Most of it has been chalked up to a serious shortage in scientific literacy, rather than the usual religious objections that are most often seen in the U.S. It’s still pretty embarrassing, though, considering Charles Darwin is on our money!

Darwin on an English ten pound note, more affectionately known as the tenner or ten quid (via Polar Magazine)

Clearly the government and the education department should be ever watchful over attempts to re-introduce this viewpoint back into the UK education system. In 2010, the government introduced Free Schools, a system similar to Charter Schools in the U.S. A Free School is a school in England funded by taxpayers, academically non-selective and free to attend, but not controlled by a local authority. Traditionally, local authorities controlled schools in terms of human resources, governance, and accountability — but not educational standards. These were set at a national level. Free schools are different, to a certain extent. They can teach a far more flexible curriculum — which is where the issue of Creationism comes in. Some schools are being set up by groups with not just secret Creationist leanings, but openly championed Creationist viewpoints.

Fortunately the weight of an opinion carried by a senior scientist carries enough weight that a small group of passionate scientists have been able to convince the government to close a loophole in the Free School legislation written in 2010. Led by Nobel prize winning geneticist and president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, groups of scientists and secular and humanist groups have successfully lobbied the Department of Education to impose stricter funding rules on Free Schools. As a result, these schools must teach evolution in science classes. Creationism has always been banned from being taught in a scientific context, but schools were attempting to subvert the minds of the young by just not mentioning evolution at all. They could loudly and proudly tout Creationism in religious studies classrooms, but make no mention of evolution at all in science classrooms. The Royal Society believed these rules did not go far enough, with Sir Paul Nurse telling The Guardian:

What they had done was only focus on part of the problem. They had, quite reasonably, controlled the possibility that creationism might be taught as science, but what hadn’t been protected was that evolution should be taught at all. You could have ended up, if a school was so minded, not to teach creationism in science but to discuss creationism as the basis of the origin of species in religious studies, and not talk about evolution in science studies. In that case, the only message would have been about creationism and the message about evolution by natural selection could have been completely lost.

Sir Paul Nurse (via The Telegraph)

So far, the Department for Education has approved three Creationist schools. Only one of those, Grindon Hall Christian school in Sunderland, has actually opened. The new rules have been updated in their agreement so they haven’t slipped through the net. While a victory for teaching evolution in the short term, both Sir Paul Nurse and Andrew Copson (Head of the British Humanist Association) have concerns about the long term implications of Creationism groups running schools.

Nurse said:

Talking personally, and not as president of the Royal Society, I have some concerns about that, but the major concern was this one and that has been dealt with by these new regulations.

His thoughts were echoed by Copson, who welcomed the new change but added:

We continue to be concerned about the three free schools recently approved which are supportive of teaching creationism as science and which we must worry will continue to find ways to circumvent a ban in practice.

Personally, I’m glad the changes are there for both practical and philosophical reasons. It ensures children will still get an education that is up to standard even if they attend a school run by a bunch of Creationists. More importantly, it shows that the government is still listening to people who know what they’re talking about. As with the alarming case of U.S. Rep. Paul Broun recently — when government officials are not only scientifically illiterate, but do not even value science, bad things happen. This outcome demonstrates, in the UK at least, that scientists’ opinions still matter and are still valued by a government willing to listen.

About Mark Turner

Mark Turner was born and raised as a Catholic in the North East of England, UK. He attended two Catholic schools between the ages of five and sixteen. A product of a moderate Catholic upbringing and an early passion for science first resulted in religious apathy and by mid-teens outright disbelief.

@markdturner

  • cipher

    I don’t know if Hemant posted this already, but there is a petition at change.org to have Paul Broun removed from the House Science Committee:

    https://www.change.org/petitions/house-science-committee-remove-rep-paul-broun#

    • RobertoTheChi

      Thanks for sharing that link. Signed it and passed it on urging everyone I know to sign and pass it on as well.

      Frightening to know this guy is on that committee! I cringe every time I think of him being on a science committee. My dog would be more qualified than that quack.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DocMonkey Mick Wright

     Bloody. Grindon. I live five minutes’ drive from that place. It has exactly the reputation you’d expect in terms of intelligence.

    • John F

      Grindon Hall is a former private school and very highly respected. There was only 3 private schools in Sunderland; Argyle House, Sunderland High and Grindon Hall. All 3 topped the league tables. Now GH has thrown its doors open to the riff-raff.

      I was actually at a garden party with a GH teacher in the summer. Got arguing about the school’s position on Creationism. All cordial, but I was concerned. Very glad to see the law has been changed.

      I know what you mean about Grindon though ;-)

  • pagansister

    I too am VERY glad the government listened.    Happy to hear the 2010 rules were changed regarding the “free schools”. 

  • http://www.imagesandmeanings.com/ Gary Hill

    Until a few years ago I was involved in research investigating the genetic bases for cognitive developmental disorders and so had quite a bit of contact with schools in the UK when recruiting participant families. I was surprised at the extent to which I had to dumb-down explanations of the research to teachers, even biology teachers.

    I imagine these creationist schools will have biology  teachers who are not only reluctant to teach evolution but who don’t even understand the field anyway.

    • http://twitter.com/cr0sh Andrew Ayers

       I tend to wonder if it isn’t – for whatever reason – because of what we have learned since Dawkins “selfish gene” hasn’t properly trickled down into the broader public sphere – into the regular school textbooks on biology, and what it all means. Part of me tends to also wonder if people just can’t accept the fact that at a very base level, -we- are UTMs. I find it amusing that two of greatest people from the UK were both so misunderstood, while being so closely related in their fields (though Turing never knew Dawkins, of course).

  • Michaelbrice

    Couldn’t watch too much of the video, he is disturbing, but moreso for me the ‘Stag holocaust’ commorated on the wall behind him.

  • Hardcore

    When i was at Primary school in Scotland we learned about the Bible and creation, but we weren’t being told them as a story, or to educate us about religion we were taught them as if they were facts. It was a taxpayer funded school and was supposed to be as secular as they could be back then. (this is late 80′s to mid 90′s). When i went to secondary school (also secular and funded by the taxpayer) we learned religion as an educational part on how it affects people and customs. It covered all major religions and was biased, but we didn’t learn about Evolution. 

    The first 2 years were generic science then you can choose after that. I choose chemistry and physics for my last two years and only the people who chose biology learned about Evolution. It’s only the last two years i’ve really been a proper Atheist & Sceptic and it’s only the last week i learned that women don’t have more ribs than men! I still have a chip on my shoulder about it all as i had a lot of time wasted at Primary school learning about useless things such as Moses and Jesus, rather than more useful topics such as history / sciences ect.

    A lot of my friends who are Atheist are facing problems with thier children at Primary schools as these ‘Secular’ places of education still teach Christianity (Probably due to combination of Church and state). They either have to tell kids not everything the school says is true, or else their children call them liars for explaining why they don’t believe in these things.

    • http://twitter.com/cr0sh Andrew Ayers

       I always find it odd how biology and evolution are seemingly regarded as the step-child nobody wants to talk about; relegated to a corner. Indeed, this seems to affect a lot of teaching of science – that interdisciplinary studies between the various sciences is discouraged.

      It has only been in fairly recent times that this has started to change. The study of biology has gained enormously from other sciences in recent decades; the cross-pollination in the other direction has happened as well (though I am not so sure about such “hard” sciences like physics, which is more tightly connected to mathematics – I’m definitely not an expert!).

      If you haven’t yet, and are interested, you owe it to yourself to read some of Dawkins’ books on evolution; particularly “The Selfish Gene” and “The Blind Watchmaker”. Coupled with your knowledge on other sciences, these books might cause you to come to unexpected (and possibly delightful) realizations about your knowledge that you hadn’t contemplated…

      • Hardcore

        Thanks for the suggestions on the books, I’ll certaintly look into them.

        I’m reading ‘Evolving – The Human Effect & Why it Matters’ by Daniel J Fairbanks just now. I did prefer the maths based subjects at school, but i’ve came to discover a much more keen interest in generic biology as i’ve got older. 

        When i stopped my religious beliefs, it took a lot of the mystery and i suddently felt everything was plain and un-interesting.  Since reading more about more interesting topics such as Quantum based theories, to Astro and Biological evolution i find it far more satisfying to be able to think of a question, then do some investigating to find the answers to it.

      • Paige

        Actually one of my biology lectures was done by a physicist. He is studying abiogenesis and was doing a whole bunch of theoretical information stuff to come up with new theories and run simulations. It’s surprising for a lot of people when you tell them what modern biology is like. I’ve had to work with geologists, theoretical statisticians and computer scientists of many flavours. We could really use more people who are into the “hard” sciences :-D you must not be afraid of calculus!

  • Aspieguy

    I wish creationism was completely banned in American schools. Now we can appeal to Pat Robertson for support!


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