The Government has changed the rules to preclude all Academies and Free Schools, both those that already exist and those that will open in the future, from teaching pseudoscientific ideas such as creationism as scientifically valid. The changes have been made through extending an explicit ban to all future Academies and Free Schools, but also by clarifying that it believes the requirement to teach a broad and balanced curriculum means no existing Academies and Free Schools can teach pseudoscience either. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the news as representing a significant step towards achieving one of its longstanding policy goals.
In 2012 the Government precluded all future Free Schools (i.e. those not already open) from teaching pseudoscience as science and required them to teach evolution, as well as requiring them to promote British values. However it decided not to extend these requirements to Academies, and these changes did not apply to Free Schools that already existed.
But in March the Government extended all of these rules to future stand-alone Academies (i.e. those not part of a multi-Academy trust that do not already exist), as well as introducing new rules to stop religious discrimination in Free Schools from extending beyond the areas of admissions, employment, RE and assemblies (i.e. into areas such as other parts of the curriculum, uniform or food policies).
Now the Government has also extended these rules to future Academies that are part of multi-Academy trusts, meaning all future Academies are covered by them. But in addition it has also introduced new clauses for Church Academies helpfully clarifying the meaning of creationism and the fact that it is a minority view within the Church of England and Catholic Church, but also stating that ‘the requirement on every academy and free school to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, in any case prevents the teaching of creationism as evidence based theory in any academy or free school.’
In other words, in the Government’s view, if an Academy or Free School teaches creationism as scientifically valid then it is breaking the requirement to provide a broad and balanced curriculum. As every Academy and Free School has this requirement in its funding agreement, the implication of this interpretation is that no Academy and Free School, existing or future, can teach pseudoscience.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘In 2011 our “Teach evolution, not creationism” campaign called for enforceable rules saying that creationism cannot be presented as a valid scientific theory in any publicly-funded school. Now the Government has extended such an explicit rule to all new Academies and Free Schools and made it clear that it believes that existing rules mean that no Academy or Free School can teach pseudoscience.
‘Coupled with the fact that maintained schools must follow the national curriculum, which from September will include a module on evolution at the primary level – the other thing we called for – we believe that this means that the objectives of the campaign are largely met. We congratulate the Government on its robust stance on this issue.
‘However, there are other ongoing areas of concern, for example the large number of state financed creationist nurseries, or the inadequate inspection of private creationist schools, and continued vigilance is needed in the state-funded sector. We will continue to work for reform in the remaining areas, but are pleased that the vast majority of issues are now dealt with.’
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In full, the new Church Academy clauses state that:
23E) The parties acknowledge that clauses 2.43 and 2.44 of the Funding Agreement [which preclude the teaching of pseudoscience and require the teaching of evolution] apply to all academies. They explicitly require that pupils are taught about the theory of evolution, and prevent academy trusts from teaching ‘creationism’ as scientific fact.
23F) ‘Creationism’, for the purposes of clauses 2.43 and 2.44 of the Funding Agreement and clause 23E above, is any doctrine or theory which holds that natural biological processes cannot account for the history, diversity, and complexity of life on earth and therefore rejects the scientific theory of evolution. The parties acknowledge that Creationism, in this sense, is rejected by most mainstream Churches and religious traditions, including the major providers of state funded schools such as the [Anglican] [Catholic] Churches, as well as the scientific community. It does not accord with the scientific consensus or the very large body of established scientific evidence; nor does it accurately and consistently employ the scientific method, and as such it should not be presented to pupils at the Academy as a scientific theory.
23G) The parties recognise that the teaching of creationism is not part of prevailing practice in the English education system, but acknowledge that it is however important that all schools are clear about what is expected in terms of the curriculum which they need to provide. The parties further recognise that the requirement on every academy and free school to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, in any case prevents the teaching of creationism as evidence based theory in any academy or free school.
23H) The Secretary of State acknowledges that clauses 2.43 and 2.44 of the Funding Agreement, and clauses 23E and 23G above do not prevent discussion of beliefs about the origins of the Earth and living things, such as creationism, in Religious Education, as long as it is not presented as a valid alternative to established scientific theory.
Read the new multi-Academy master funding agreements: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/academy-and-free-school-multi-model-master-funding-agreement
Read the new supplemental funding agreements: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/academy-and-free-school-single-model-funding-agreement
Read the new Church Academy model funding agreements: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/church-academies-model-documents
Read the ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ statement, coordinated by the BHA, from 30 scientists including Sir David Attenborough, Professor Richard Dawkins, Sir Paul Nurse and Professor Michael Reiss, the Association for Science Education, the British Science Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering and Ekklesia at http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/
Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on countering creationism: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/countering-creationism
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.