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News > UK >

Board lets Jewish schools erase evolution questions

by Margaret Holness, Education Correspondent

Posted: 07 Mar 2014 @ 12:24

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Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

TWO ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools in north London have been allowed to delete questions on GCSE science papers set by the Oxford, Cambridge, and RSA (OCR) examinations board which infringe their community's beliefs. The two schools are associated with the Haredi community, a Jewish sect that teaches that human beings and animals were created by God in their present form.

Almost all of the 30-plus schools that serve their north-London community are privately run, but the two schools involved in tailoring science papers are state-maintained. One has been named as the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls' School.

School staff are understood to use a black marking pen to erase examination questions that refer to evolution.

An OCR spokesman confirmed that the schools concerned had negotiated the process, known as "redaction", with the Board, but had been asked for written assurances that all parents knew of, and approved, the practice. OCR has also placed limits on school staff responsible for examinations. Moreover, the schools are required to tell the examinations board in writing, and within 24 hours, which papers had questions covered up, and to outline the reasons.

An OCR statement said: "We do not consider covering up questions to be good examination practice. That said, while protecting the integrity of our exams, we do respect religious and cultural sensitivities."

A statement from OFSTED said: "If a school was deliberately preventing children from receiving a broad and balanced curriculum, this would be taken very seriously and could result in an inspection being brought forward as part of our risk assessment policy."

The National Secular Society says that the OCR's response to the editing of its science papers by two Haredi schools calls into question the funding of all maintained faith schools. The majority of so-called "faith" schools, however, are long-established C of E, Roman Catholic, and joint church schools that serve the wider community, teach the national curriculum, and have no difficulty with standard science examinations.

Students' religious beliefs surveyed. Researchers at York University who studied attitudes to evolution among 200 teenagers at four maintained comprehensives, found that 80 per cent of those aged 14 to 16 at a non-faith school with a mainly Muslim catchment believed in creationism, whereas 60 per cent of the age group attending a school with a Christian designation thought that humans had developed over time, with some divine involvement. One in four students at the Christian school accepted evolution without divine involvement.

About half of those attending a non-faith school with a mixed catchment accepted evolution without divine involvement; one in three thought that God had played some part in the development of humans, and ten per cent - a significant minority - believed in creationism.

The results of the research have been reported by Pam Hanley, of York University's Institute for Effective Education, in an article in the online magazine The Conversation. "To avoid alienating students, understanding evolution rather than accepting it should be emphasised," she writes.

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