Free schools must teach evolution, ministers announce

All free schools will be forced to present evolution as a comprehensive and central tenet of scientific theory, ministers have announced, following lobbying by senior scientists concerned that Christian-run institutions could exploit loopholes in the rules to present creationism as a credible theory. This is from the Guardian…

The tightening of the funding rules for free schools comes after representations to the Department for Education by the Royal Society and its president, the Nobel-prizewinning geneticist Sir Paul Nurse, as well as by secular and humanist groups.

The DfE has approved three free schools run by groups with openly creationist views, although only one of them, Grindon Hall Christian school in Sunderland, has so far opened. Under the original agreement, these schools would receive state funding only if they pledged to teach creationism strictly as a religious concept in RE lessons, and not as part of the science curriculum. However, Nurse told the Guardian that the Royal Society felt this did not go far enough.

He said: “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.”

Nurse said he approached the DfE about the apparent “hole in the argument”. He said: “To their credit they responded pretty rapidly.”. The new clause in funding agreements says free schools must “make provision for the teaching of evolution as a comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidenced theory”.

Lord Hill, the schools minister, wrote to Nurse this week to explain the change, saying: “While we have always been clear that we would expect to see evolution included in schools’ science curricula, this new clause will provide more explicit reassurance that free schools will have to meet that expectation.”

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