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Closing a creationist loophole in Britain

"All free schools will be forced to present evolution as a comprehensive and central tenet of scientific theory," the Guardian (November 29, 2012) reported, "following lobbying by senior scientists concerned that Christian-run institutions could exploit loopholes in the rules to present creationism as a credible theory." A relatively new phenomenon, free schools in Britain resemble charter schools in the United States, and as with charter schools, there are concerns about whether creationism is taught in institutions sponsored or operated by religious groups with creationist views.

As NCSE previously reported, although the Department for Children, Education, and Schools promised to reject the application of any free school proposing to teach creationism in the science curriculum, there was widespread concern whether it was sufficient. The Guardian (September 18, 2011) noted, "A number of faith schools say that they teach creationism in religious studies but not in science and then leave students to decide," and quoted one proposal for a church-run free school, according to which creationism "[w]ill be embodied as a belief at Everyday Champions Academy, but will not be taught in the sciences."

Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society of London, who lobbied for the tightening of the requirements, told the Guardian, "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. ... the message about evolution by natural selection could have been completely lost."

According to the new requirement, free schools must "make provision for the teaching of evolution as a comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidenced theory"; the Guardian quoted the minister of education as 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." Nurse, while admitting to still harboring personal concerns about science education in free schools, commented, "the major concern was this one and that has been dealt with by these new regulations."

Writing in the Guardian (November 30, 2012), Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association applauded the new requirement as "the furthest a British government has ever gone to counter the threat of pseudoscientific creationist beliefs being taught in our state schools," but warned that it would be necessary to be vigilant to ensure the integrity of science education in British schools: "In addition to such concerns about the ability of public bodies to uphold and guarantee commitments made on paper, there are still loopholes allowing the determined to teach creationism."