Thank you for your letter of 4 April 2014, and for the provision of the response, dated 24 April 2014, of Elizabeth Truss, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare.
Regarding Ofqual‘s letter addressing the redaction of examination questions, this is not completely reassuring. Where this has occurred, is follow-up investigation underway as to what is and is not being taught in the classroom toward the relevant exam questions? Are the individuals responsible for the redactions to be investigated and disciplined? Written assurance from (for example) Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girl’s School is all well and good, but will separate further inspection take place in order to ensure that it is delivering the national curriculum? It would seem that schools zealous enough to resort to censoring exam papers are unlikely to alter what they want to teach/inculcate, but may resort to other measures to circumvent assessment materials. Furthermore, if Ofqual is investigating whether this kind of behaviour has happened in other schools, will it make public the names of those schools contravening its stipulations? This would be important information for parents; and would also serve as a deterrent to any schools seeking to disregard Ofqual.
Further to the current consultation on statutory guidance for local authorities concerning the allocation of state funding for early years’ places, as provided to independent schools which would ordinarily not receive such funding, are new revelations regarding the inspection of some such schools. A pseudoscientific ethos is being encouraged by inspectors promoting creationist and religiously-extreme views. There is a serious disparity here: these apparently rogue inspectors are working on behalf of independent inspectorate bodies, despite those bodies supposedly being approved by, and accountable to, Ofsted. Ofsted is thus apparently failing to ensure these inspectorates properly fulfil their remits – and consequently failing to hold independent schools to account. This argues for greater stringency in procedural appointment to these inspectorates, such that individuals with a conflict of interest – eg, those of a creationist or extremist-sympathetic background – are prevented from serving in them.
Elizabeth Truss recently said in Parliament, ‘The Government’s policy is that evolution should be taught in schools as an essential element of a rigorous scientific education; teaching creationism as science is incompatible with the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum.’ Her response on the issue of the creationist Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm in Bristol is thus unsatisfactory. The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) may be independent of Government, but this does not render it unaccountable. That it awards its ‘Quality Badge’ (a scheme set up by the Department for Children, Schools and Families) to a pseudoscience-based enterprise begs questions concerning the motivation and/or judgement of CLOtC members. However, though Government has no sway over the CLOtC, it does have influence over the educational activities of schools which are accountable to Government. Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm may be free to make its resources available to whomever, but this does not grant schools licence to flout a science curriculum that excludes creationism and intelligent design as ‘… incompatible with the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum.’ Thus, the motives of schools taking pupils on school trips to pseudoscientific enterprises such as Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm are questionable.
You [MP] state that ‘Religious sensitivities are very important, but they must not obstruct a young person’s right to a rounded education.’ Doubtless, in most schools, they don’t, necessarily. But ‘religious sensitivities’ – purposefully catered for by other facilities – should not be deemed so important that they justify overriding the human rights of children. Not irrelevant here is the recent exposure of the state-funded Madani Schools Federation in Leicester, found to have been displaying a poster declaring ‘Music is Haraam’ and ‘a tool of Shaytan (Satan)’. Actively denying children the life enrichment to be had from music is hardly conducive to a ’rounded education.’ Such stultifying activity must not go unchallenged for the sake of sensitivities, otherwise we are complicit in allowing ridiculous doctrine to flourish, lest we offend.
Further to the recent consultation working towards increased rigour in countering pseudoscientific and/or extremist tendencies in independent schools, academies and free schools, Ofsted and local authorities need to ensure appointed inspectorates/inspectors are thoroughly vetted for potential conflicts of interest which potentially engender biases or oversights; and inspections should be tightened to prevent system abuse by religious opportunists exploiting loopholes in order to promote pseudoscientific and/or extreme beliefs in schools. Any school – state or independent – actively exerting a religious worldview for overriding scientific evidence-based education should certainly not receive state funding.
With best wishes,