Government complicit in redaction of exam questions

Janet Downs's picture
I have posted this on behalf of Roger Titcombe who is having difficulty posting threads.

The website of the National Secular Society (here) states the following:

"The National Secular Society has discovered that exam boards, the exam regulator and the government have been colluding with faith schools to shield pupils from key scientific concepts.

A freedom of information request revealed that the redaction of exam questions on science papers deemed incompatible with a school's religious character is being condoned on grounds of religious sensitivity.

In October 2013 the NSS revealed that questions had been redacted on exam papers by teachers at Yesodey Hatorah Jewish Voluntary Aided girls' secondary school.

After raising the matter with the Department for Education (DfE), the NSS was informed by education minister Elizabeth Truss that a "proportionate and reasonable response" had been agreed with the school.

The freedom of information response reveals that faith schools will still be permitted to redact questions they don't approve of as long as this is done in collaboration with the exam board.

Setting out the response to the uncovering of exam malpractice, OCR wrote to the exam regulator Ofqual, stating:

"In our deliberations we have reached the conclusion the most proportionate and reasonable approach would be to come to an agreement with the centres concerned which will protect the future integrity of our examinations – by stipulating how, when and where the redactions take place – but at the same time respect their need to do this in view of their religious beliefs. We believe we need to be mindful of the fact that if we do not come to an agreement with the centres we could be seen as creating a barrier to accessing the examinations for the candidates."

The correspondence reveals that the school was under the impression that, prior to the NSS raising it as an issue, the practice of redaction was something that OCR and other exam boards were aware of and accepting of.

OCR acknowledges in its correspondence that the issue has "significantly wider implications and could apply to other faith schools." In correspondence contained within the FOI response it is clear that neither OCR nor Ofqual regarded the malpractice at Yesodey Hatorah an isolated incident."

The NSS article goes on as follows.

"Stephen Evans, National Secular Society campaigns manager, said: "Given the Government's laissez-faire approach to the redaction of questions on science exam papers we have no confidence that the DfE will ensure the new science curriculum will be taught in full by all schools.

"The pressure from schools for redaction demonstrates that religious precepts are strongly influencing science classes in some minority faith schools.

"The censoring of key scientific concepts from science lessons and exams by religious organisations pursuing their own religious agenda compromises children's education. It also reveals a lack of concern from the Government over minority faith schools not preparing pupils for life in wide British society."

Lord Avebury, the Lib Dem peer, has put down parliamentary questions asking the Government for details of the redactions and what representations it has made to the Children's Commissioner regarding the right of pupils to see all questions in any public examination they are taking."

The principle that parents do not own their children and that the state has a role in protecting the rights and entitlements of children in contrary to the wishes of parents has long been enshrined in English law and British culture.

For example, only last week the High Court insisted that an infant child of Jehovah's Witnesses parents must have medical intervention that would include blood transfusions, despite this being opposed by the parents on religious grounds.

Local Authority Children's Services Departments have a duty of care of children that can overrule the wishes of parents.

The law can compel parents to ensure that their children attend school regularly and parents can be fined for taking their children on family holidays during school terms. (I am actually of the view that this is excessive interference in the rights of parents).

Of course no school or any of its teachers has the right to tell pupils what they must or should believe, but the school must have the right to ensure that all children are presented with the relevant facts and evidence that underpin all the key scientific theories and laws that the state reasonably dictates should constitute the science curriculum entitlement of every child, regardless of the wishes of parents.

The same principle applies to all curriculum areas. History is a good example. Children must be taught historical facts where these are not in dispute. Where they are then they must be taught the conflicting theories and their evidence base. This is potentially just as sensitive as the teaching of evolution, but neither should be ducked. To have a state education system that insists that all children have an entitlement to be taught a national curriculum, but to allow exceptions for religious or other interest groups is a very dangerous slippery slope that we already appear to be on.

The government has recently agreed that all pupils must be taught about the illegal practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), despite religious and cultural sensitivities. It remains to be seen if this teaching will in fact take place in all faith schools.

Returning to the teaching of evolution, Richard Dawkins is frequently maligned as an unnecessarily confrontational atheist zealot. He is nothing of the sort as was revealed in his More4 documentary 'Faith School Menace' broadcast on 18 August 2010. This, despite the title!

In the programme he talked to a group of girls in a Moslem school where the science teacher had told him in advance that none of her pupils believed in Darwinian evolution, despite her having explained it to them. One girl asked Dawkins, "Do you believe that humans are descended from apes?"

Dawkins replied correctly that he did not believe that.

"Humans ARE apes", he said. This is an absolutely incontestable fact, underpinned by anatomical classification now backed by incontrovertible DNA evidence. The DNA record can also indentify the common ancestor timeline and branching point.

Whether or not to believe in Darwinian evolution or a religious alternative is a free choice for adults and ultimately their children. However all children are entitled to have been presented with the evidence.
We cannot have religious schools negotiating their own exemptions to the questions in science exam papers.

CORRECTION 9 March 8.20am The three paragraphs about Richard Dawkins have been changed to correct typos. Apologies.
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Penelope B's picture
Sat, 08/03/2014 - 18:14

I totally agree with Roger Titcombe on this.

Unfortunately though, isn't it the case that academies and free schools don't have to follow the national curriculum? I think all state schools should, but I believe academies and free schools have the freedom to set their own curricula, which is a potentially dangerous situation, particularly in the case of some faith schools.

Harry's picture
Sat, 08/03/2014 - 19:01

I'm sorry if this is obvious, but how does redaction work? Does a teacher open the papers before the exam and cross out certain questions? Wouldn't this have rather a detrimental effect on results?

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Sat, 08/03/2014 - 20:27

I think "proportion" and "hidden agendas" are key principles here i.e how many schools and actual pupils are, in truth, affected by this and why isn't the website of the secular society providing this information ?

Surely there are far more important trangressions, not to mention reprehensible, transgressions against equity and equality in education that are perpetrated by faith schools ?

e.g the admissions policies in the Voluntary aided primary schools in inner city Leeds ? The fallacy that Grey Coats Hospital School doesn't have a socially exclusive admissions policy etc etc

Andy V's picture
Sat, 08/03/2014 - 21:07

To the best of my knowledge while academies and free schools are not bound by the (alleged) national curriculum they nevertheless do have to teach English, Maths and Science. Thereafter their curricula must meet the requirement to offer a broad and balanced curriculum. This is borne out by the fact some specific Christian (literalist) groups wanting to set up free schools have been held back and then ordered to teach the full approved science program of study. If I remember rightly (from earlier research by Janet) Mr Gove reinforced the legal position that makes it statutory to teach evolution in science.

Speaking personally, I would have to say that it is not possible to make the statement "Returning to the teaching of evolution, Richard Dawkins is frequently maligned as an unnecessarily confrontational atheist zealot. He is nothing of the sort as was revealed in his More4 documentary ‘Faith School Menace’ broadcast on 18 August 2010." This may well be the authors personal opinion but others are perfectly at liberty to disagree and hold the position that Mr Dawkins is an unnecessarily aggressive atheist who borders on outright bigotry.

Interestingly humans share 50% of their DNA pool in common with bananas and 90% with cats but I wouldn't for one minutes suggest that this means that humans descended from either:

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 08:42

Rosie - you're right that there are other dodgy practices in faith schools. It's also right that these affect a large number of pupils at the moment.

But if confidence, already battered, in the exam system is to be maintained then all pupils sitting the same exam should have the same questions which are marked to the same criteria. If that confidence is undermined then all children are affected.

"Special circumstances" don't apply to exam questions. If pupils are expected to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the subject they cannot expect to be let off certain aspects for whatever reason.

Would children who don't believe the holocaust happened be allowed to sit a history exam which redacted a question on this? Could the religious group's objections be extended to cover geography because the idea that the earth is millions of years old is offensive to those who believe it was created in six days? Or business studies. could a school redact a question on equality in the workplace because it believes women should not work alongside men?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 10:14

Rosie - There is no hidden agenda on the part of the National Secular Society. They are quite open in opposing religious privilege in the public space and in public institutions. At the same time, NSS campaigns actively for freedom of religious practise and no discrimination on the basis of religious belief or lack of it. NSS makes the point that it is only secular societies that guarantee this and that the worst abuses take place in countries where particular religions have special privileges in access to government and control of the education system.

With regard to proportion, it is surely a major issue if religious groups controlling schools are allowed to censor information about the world so that their pupils are denied access to the facts that underpin mainstream science and other subjects.

This statement by the Schools Minister is especially contentious.

" In our deliberations we have reached the conclusion the most proportionate and reasonable approach would be to come to an agreement with the centres concerned which will protect the future integrity of our examinations – by stipulating how, when and where the redactions take place – but at the same time respect their need to do this in view of their religious beliefs. We believe we need to be mindful of the fact that if we do not come to an agreement with the centres we could be seen as creating a barrier to accessing the examinations for the candidates."

How can letting pupils read particular questions on an examinations paper be a barrier to them accessing the examination (let alone making factual information available in lessons)? There is an important parallel with GCSE RE. Pupils can be taught about other religions without any expectation that they will be influenced for or against particular religious beliefs, although of course they might be. All individuals, pupils and adults alike, are entitled to such intellectual freedom.

There is a clear implication that some religious schools wish to keep their pupils insulated from factual information and its possible/probable logical implications for fear of 'contamination'. This amounts to a degree of ownership and control of children that not just secularists regard as unacceptable.

Of course I agree you about other gross and unacceptable privileges enjoyed by religious schools. Admissions and free home to school transport come to mind.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 11:18

Andy - you're right about the Government position. Michael Gove has made it "crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact" (see here).

It follows that if a science exam tests the knowledge and understanding of scientific facts then pupils should be expected to know all these facts even when the facts inconveniently contradict beliefs.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 12:33

Janet - Thank you for the clarification and citing evidence. I couldn't track through the plethora of other views posted since that time.

Forgive me for what may appear to be splitting hairs on this but I do not agree that it automatically follows that "pupils should be expected to know all these facts". The statutory situation is that the teaching of Science must include evolution, so providing the school do that there is not edu-legal issue.

I do accept that not giving pupils the opportunity to make their own mind up as to whether to answer or skip questions on evolution is another issue. Indeed, for me it is at this point that I find myself at odds with both the DFE and Examination Board on their handling of the case:

1. The redaction per se (willfully and premeditatedly denying pupils the choice of whether to tackle a particular question or not)

2. The JCQ rubric on the conduct of examinations and handling of examination papers prior to the national scheduled time of the examination. This immediately raises questions as to the integrity of the examination if colleagues are privy to the questions too far in advance of the scheduled time e.g.:

"1.9 Question papers should be kept in their sealed packets.

However, if you are using a number of rooms on one or more sites for examinations, you
may open the packet(s) of question papers before the examination in order to make them
up into more appropriately sized sets for the different rooms.

You should open as few packets as possible and within 60 minutes of the published starting time of the examination. Centres following this approach should note that prior awarding body approval is not required.

If circumstances are such that the packet of question papers is to be split, the question paper packet must be opened in the secure area.

The question papers extracted from the packet must be placed in a sealed envelope and taken to the allocated room.

An invigilator must be present in the room at all times. Question papers must not be left

The question paper packet must be re-sealed and placed in the centre’s secure storage facility."


It is also my understanding that each board prints details as to when sealed packets of examination papers may be opened prior to the actual examination.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 31/03/2014 - 14:41

So now we know that both the school and exam board, OCR, were wrong:

1. Ofqual make it clear that tampering with any public examination paper is unacceptable
2. OCR say they won't let it happening again but they should never have allowed it the first time round. Indeed, as I indicated above the case seemed to breach the JCQ rubrics, which means that OCR knew at the outset that it was wrong.
3. The school breached the rubrics and put the national integrity of the examination and as such:

a. Put all pupils sitting the examination in jeopardy of disqualification
b. By placing the national integrity in question could have caused a resit under a rewritten paper across the country

So what, if any, action will be taken against OCR by Ofqual or JCQ or DFE?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 12:46

Andy - I hope I am forgiven for my former insensitivity. I have to point out that the DNA record really is absolutely clear that our nearest relatives, chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor. However we are not descended from chimpanzees but we are both on the extremity of different fine branches that join at this common ancestor, which is the point Dawkins made to the pupil. We are not descended from cats or bananas either because we are not on the same branches of the evolutionary tree. However we do indeed share a common ancestor with cats. Both humans and cats share a different common ancestor with bananas. The greater the genetic difference, the further you have to retreat from the branches towards the trunk of the evolutionary tree before you come to the common ancestor. The evolutionary tree is the key concept. All present life forms occupy the tiny branches on the extremities of the canopy of the tree and all are equally evolved. This is a common misunderstanding.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 13:49

Taken from the headline story:

"One girl asked Dawkins, “Do you believe that humans are descended from apes?”

Dawkins replied correctly that he did not believe that.

“Humans ARE apes”, he said. This is an absolutely incontestable fact, underpinned by anatomical classification now backed by incontrovertible DNA evidence. The DNA record can also indentify the common ancestor timeline and branching point.

Laid alongside your comment:

"I have to point out that the DNA record really is absolutely clear that our nearest relatives, chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor. However we are not descended from chimpanzees but we are both on the extremity of different fine branches that join at this common ancestor, which is the point Dawkins made to the pupil."

This begs the question, which is the accurate position and if the Dawkins quote is accurate then if we are apes - as he appears to assert - how are we not descended from them?

For what it is worth, and as I stated previously, there are no absolute facts or immutable elements to the debate and exploration into the origins or humankind (or the huge range of species of other life forms for that matter). Why, because all is theory and particularly for science as research comes up with new information and new postulations the theories change. This is only to be expected because new discoveries impact on current thinking.

I will contradict myself in terms of immutability here insofar as the only unchanging aspect is that neither theists nor religionists nor scientists can unequivocally prove their positions beyond doubt.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 12:56

Andy - just to clarify, I meant if candidates are expected to know what's on the syllabus then questions should not be redacted.

I've never taught science but would assume that evolution was on the syllabus and, as Gove pointed out, creationism should not be taught as fact. And if it's on the syllabus then pupils can be expected to be asked about it.

You're right about the procedure surrounding exam papers - envelopes containing exam papers can only be opened outside the exam room and/or before the arranged time in certain specified circumstances. And, as you say, they have to be in secure storage.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 15:09

Andy - I worry about persisting with this in case you get cross with me and accuse me of arrogance again. But here goes.

Chimpanzees are apes. Humans are apes. Chimpanzees are equally highly evolved as humans but along a parallel branch. Going back along both branches there is the point where they diverged. At that point humans and chimpanzees shared the same ape ancestor that created the new branch. The ape branch itself diverged at an earlier point from the monkey branch. Our common ape like ancestor had features of modern apes and modern monkeys.

The money line continued to evolve further branches that have become all the species of modern monkeys. The ape line continued to evolve further branches to become all the species of modern apes that include chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and humans. Some species along branches become extinct, eg Neanderthals.

Why it is misleading to state that humans are evolved from apes is because it suggests that chimpanzees and gorillas etc. are more primitive forms of human which is not true. Humans did not evolve from chimpanzees or gorillas. Chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, neaderthals and humans all evolved from a common ancestor that was more ape-like than monkey-like.

Most 'missing links' become extinct because they are outcompeted by other evolutionary developments of the branch they initiated. However there are plenty enough of 'missing links' in the fossil record to confirm the theory of evolution and more are being uncovered all the time.

However, now we have DNA evidence the basic structure of the tree of life is established beyond all doubt by other means than the fossil record.

Whatever you think of him as a crusader against religion, Richard Dawkins is a brilliant scientific writer and communicator. I recommend 'The Ancestor's Tale - A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life', Phoenix, 2005

Your view of the development of science is mistaken. Whether you take the position of Kuhn or Popper, new scientific theories only arise when the existing ones predict outcomes that are contradicted by the evidence, and they then tend to be modified rather than abandoned. Einstein's relativity is such a modification of Newton's theory of gravity.

The last great example of complete abandonment was the science of Aristotle, which was not modern science at all because it was based on logical inference alone rather than on the modern scientific method that requires synthesis of hypothesis and experiment. The first modern scientist was Galileo.

17th Century GCSEs in Italy would have had questions related to Galileo's work redacted by direction of the church. Our 21st Century GCSEs are having questions related to the work of Charles Darwin redacted because of religious privilege in our education system, encouraged by our government.

There is no more chance of evolutionary theory being replaced by creationist immutability of species than there is of modern cosmology being replaced by the heliocentric theories that predated Copernicus and Galileo.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 15:17

A misreading of my comment I fear. The closest thing to an immutable fact is that whether one argues from the many and varied positions put forward by all parties, that is to say theists, religionists and scientists, all is theory. Nothing has been or is likely to to proven unequivocally by any side of the debate.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 17:25

Creating a universe - Creation theory

Three theories that might blow up the big bang:

Goodbye big bang. Hello black hole:

Just a couple of examples of how theories are in a near constant state of flux: they cover a marked period of evolving scientific research and theorising.

FJM's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 20:17

Here is something that the NSS should be really getting worked up about, along with the rest of the population: a disturbing article about some alleged activities of Islamic zealots in schools in Birmingham.

Henry Stewart's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 23:03

But to keep that Birmingham article in perspective, do check out Tom Bennett's response:

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 10/03/2014 - 13:00

Press release from one of the schools named as being targeted by the alleged plot:

Park View School the Academy of Mathematics and Science

"PRESS RELEASE 7th March 2014

We are aware of a press report of an anonymous document which allegedly contains details of a “plot” to take over a number of Birmingham schools by means of a “dirty tricks” campaign. We understand that the local authority is currently trying to establish whether the document is genuine or not."

"Although we are not aware of any such campaign actually being carried out in relation to Park View School, we are of course concerned about the school potentially being targeted for such action. We remain on alert for any such conduct, and will act appropriately."

"We have not been contacted by either the Police or the Department of Education in relation to any investigation concerning this matter, but will of course be happy to cooperate fully. Park View School for many years has delivered a well-balanced and successful high quality education to pupils from all the local communities, and will continue to do so."

End of press release.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 10/03/2014 - 13:32

FJM - it's not been established yet whether the letter is a fake or not. According to the Daily Mail, which covered the story this morning, the alleged plot went back as far as 1993. That's 20 years ago so they haven't made much inroad in taking over English schools.

However, there's bound to be some nutters somewhere who want to impose this or that religious law on the entire country. If they persecute or threaten people then this should be properly investigated and dealt with appropriately.

That said, the Telegraph was right to suggest the Bridge Schools Inspectorate should be abolished. I argue here that this should go further - there should only be one inspection body for all schools in England, whether state, private, faith, academy, maintained, Steiner....

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 10/03/2014 - 14:05

The Telegraph article makes a large number of clear statements that presumably can be easily checked. Some of these relate to actions and associations of named individuals. Others are about the circumstances in which heads of schools have been replaced. Tom Bennett's blog doesn't refer to such specific statements. The Telegraph claims to have checked its sources. The statements are either true or not.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 10/03/2014 - 14:25

Janet, while I too would greatly prefer all schools to fall under a single organisation.

However, it would also be good to remind ourselves that the vast majority of schools are and, with the exception of the Bridge School Inspection group which is a tiny number of schools (approx 65), this includes practically all faith badged schools already and the vast majority of non-denominational schools. Thus by and large only the private/fee paying schools do not come directly under Ofsted. Additionally, as well as the standard Ofsted inspection regime all RC and CoE VA schools undergo a separate and rigorous inspection from their own relgious group (e.g. RC have the Section 48 regime).

Thus when taken in the round only a small percentage of schools have the franchised inspection process (i.e. not directly undertaken by the Ofsted ISPs CfBT, Serco or Tribal) that is nonetheless authorised, monitored, evaluated and approved by the DFE.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 10/03/2014 - 14:40

This is one of my all time favourite Horizon programmes and wonderfully illustrates the point that little is absolute incontrovertible fact but there is a enormous amount of time, energy, brains, innovative mathematical and scientific thinking that goes into the veritable welter of theoretical ideas. If you haven't seen it I thoroughly commend it to you:

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 10/03/2014 - 14:42

Andy - it's true that the Bridge Schools Inspectorate and the Schools Inspection Service only inspect a tiny number of schools. But no school should be subject to a different inspection regime especially if this could lead to problems being unnoticed. For example, Bridge Schools Inspectorate passed Darul Uloom school which was shown in Channel 4's documentary "Dispatches: Lessons in Hate and Violence" to be preaching hatred against fellow Muslims (Muslim men who didn't grow long beards) and other faiths.

Brian's picture
Mon, 10/03/2014 - 19:56

I don't know enough about GCSE or other exams so maybe a point which occurs to me is ridiculous. We have a full exam syllabus which, for the sake of argument, I'll call 100% but I know that maybe 15% of that syllabus we are not going to have to study because we will be allowed to redact any questions on that 15%. So now I have a syllabus of 85%, but I've still got 100% of time available to cover it. Fair? Equitable?

Much less important of course than denying students a proper education I agree but possibly somewhat irritating to schools covering 100% syllabus. Would be nice to know every year that certain questions definitely won't be on the papers ... even more so as Gove's prejudices move us away from valuable, and valued, course work.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 10/03/2014 - 20:03

Brian, I agree your point re the equity/fairness issue but this would only be accurate if the school(s) involved didn't cover the full PoS (i.e. include evolution even though they were going to redact any questions on it). Which comes back to the point that if a school is either not teaching evolution and/or teaching creation by design then they would seem to be in breach of statute.

Brian's picture
Mon, 10/03/2014 - 20:13

Andy (8.03 no reply button): I take your point but had rather assumed that if school objected to an exam question they would also be objecting to having to teach that aspect of the syllabus. I can't see them teaching, for example, evolution, as required in the syllabus and fearing damaging young minds only if a question on the subject hove into view.

Frustrated Teacher's picture
Mon, 10/03/2014 - 23:29

Back to the subject of redaction of questions...not all questions on GCSE science papers have the same value. The paper is designed such that later questions are more challenging including questions requiring a more in-depth mini-essay style of answer in which both the scientific accuracy and the (effectively) quality of written communication is tested. If a faith school redacts one of these questions then the overall challange of the paper is changed (it is easier). Does the exam board take this into account or do they simply create a % using the revised total marks? (Likewise if the redacted questions are 'easy' then then remaining paper becomes harder overall)

Frustrated Teacher's picture
Mon, 10/03/2014 - 23:47

Andy - 'Nothing has been or is likely to to proven unequivocally by any side of the debate'

The validity or otherwise of a scientific position depends upon how successfully the predictions that it makes are borne out by experiment / observation. The principles of evolutionary theory are supported by a vast literature documenting countless examples of (often spectacular) verifications of its predictions. There is not a single religious explanation for the history of existence of lifeforms that has been borne out by scientific investigation, in fact every testable prediction made by religious explanation has been shown to be false.

God and evolution are NOT two equally 'unproven' (and hence equally likely)explanations for life on Earth. That is your own self-delusion.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 08:36

Andy - You are right to point out that there are many hypotheses about the origin of the universe and what may or may not have preceded the 'big bang'. All science has a leading edge of theories competing for experimental confirmation/falsification.

However evolution is not one of them. All attempts at falsification have failed. It is mainstream science universally accepted as such by all scientists except a tiny minority influenced by their religious beliefs.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 12:17

"Creating a universe – Creation theory
Three theories that might blow up the big bang:
So Goodbye big bang. Hello black hole:
Just a couple of examples of how theories are in a near constant state of flux: they cover a marked period of evolving scientific research and theorising"

Andy - Science does not claim to have a 'theory of everything'. Science has its 'leading edges' where apparent contradictions and paradoxes remain. With regard to the 'Big Bang' theory, no cosmologists now dispute that all of current evidence suggests that the universe erupted from a singularity (infinitely tiny point) about 13 billion years ago. This 'leading edge' area of science progresses through hypotheses that attempt to account for the current distribution of mass and energy in the universe. None have so far been entirely successful. All sorts of weird ideas are constantly being proposed. If the 'Big Bang' itself is not weird enough. However weirdness is not of itself enough to reject a hypothesis because we know that reality and the truth are frequently counter-intuitive. The 'young earth' model required by religious creationists is not part of any science, standard or leading edge'. It is just plain nonsense.

Nothing could have been more 'weird' at the time than Galileo's ideas that contradicted the centuries old standard 'science' of Aristotle (as well as the Bible). Galileo, Newton, Einstein and yes, Charles Darwin too, have become standard science because their hypotheses have prevailed against all experimental attempts to refute them.

Kuhn introduced the idea of 'Normal' science wherein practitioners beaver away writing papers that 'fill in the gaps' but do not challenge the main established theories. This is what most scientists do for a living. A successful challenge to established scientific orthodoxy requires an exceptional hypothesis backed by exceptional, replicable experimental truth.

Darwinian evolution is comfortably established within 'Normal' science. There is no serious challenge to its main principles. Only a tiny minority of scientists dispute Darwinism, presumably out of conflict with a religious upbringing. It is important to note that many mainstream religions including the Church of England version of Christianity have accommodated Darwinian evolution.

A current 'leading edge' aspect of Darwinism concerns the origin of the first self-replicating molecules. Dawkins takes the 'standard' view that one of these arose once in the 'primeval soup' by a very improbable chance process over a vey long period of time. This first replicating molecule spawned mutations through chance failures in the replication process setting off evolution by natural selection and the rest is history measured in billions of years. A competing theory speculates that replicating molecules exist throughout the universe in comets and one or more of these reached the earth and 'seeded' life here.

'Horizon' is a 'popular science' programme that deals with 'leading edge' hypotheses. Such programmes and internet sites speculate about 'multiverses', 'wormholes' and bizarre implications of black holes, as if black holes (now normal science) aren't bizarre enough.

Evolution by Natural Selection is mainstream 'Normal' science. As such it must be a compulsory part of any school science curriculum worthy of the name. It is outrageous that the government should be colluding in its suppression at the behest of religion. This principle is as important today as it was in 17th century Italy.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 14:53

"That is your own self delusion" - No it is my open minded philosophical veiwpoint that neither science nor theists nor religionists have any concrete proof for their stated positions. It matters not to me about the purported validity or weight of literature involved whether that be postulations about the fossil record or anthropologists or cosmologists or physicists or theologians. The simply matter is that no-one has any incontrovertible evidence to prove their case/idea/theory/hypothesis/doctrine/belief. What I do cherish is the freedom of thought, freedom to investigate, freedom to form ideas and freedom to speculate. What I do not hold with is closed minds attempting to pass off one idea or theory as being an incontrovertible fact.

On that basis I could equally assert that you are also self-delusional. Indeed, in light of the knowledge that humanity does not possess any immutable answers to questions such as these I could also postulate that my openness is somewhat more honest than throwing up a plethora of theories and calling them fact.

So Frustrated Teacher and Roger I must agree to disagree with you.

Roger, if you haven't watched the Horizon programme I do suggest that you remedy that. It might assist the avoidance of elitist sounding put downs and provide an insight into why the mathematical and cosmological issues rooted in the BB theory tend to support the weakness of the theory. Professor Hubble's work is still revered as a major step forward but significant flaws seem to have been found in it and thus science is moving further away from it as being the answer (not pun intended).

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 15:54

Andy - OK, but surely children have the right to be taught mainstream science so they can make their minds up. I have already pointed out that everybody including school pupils have the right to believe or disbelieve what they are taught.

Science exams don't test whether pupils believe what they are taught, but whether they have understood it. I am strongly of the view that all pupils should be taught the basic facts, histories, fundamental beliefs and customs and practices of the world's major religions. Obviously given that there are so many and that they all contradict each other, it is wrong for this teaching to be from the standpoint that any particular religion or sect has the truth and all the others are wrong.

I am an atheist secularist but I have no objection to children being taught about Islam. Christianity etc and what followers believe. In fact I regard it as vital that they are.

Despite being brought up in a Christian culture I was never taught at school even the difference between the beliefs of Catholics and Protestants, let alone Jews and Moslems. I should have been.

Why can't some religious schools tolerate children being taught mainstream science, or being allowed even to see certain exam questions?

I don't think from your comments that you support schools being allowed to redact questions they don't like from GCSE exam papers. Am I right?

Andy V's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 16:10

My position on this was made in my post on 9 Mar at 12.33. I am ambivalent in relation to the redact but with a preference to leave the questions in and let pupils choose for themselves. Providing the schools in question teach the prescribed science curriculum then the requirement is met. The rest is a storm in tea cup.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 15:57

This is possibly true of aspects of cosmology, but not Darwinian evolution.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 16:16

Roger - the Telegraph article made it clear the "leaked document" was "purportedly a letter from one Muslim extremist to another". It spoke of "alleged plotters".

It also made it clear investigations were ongoing and Ofsted had made a snap visit to Park View School. The latter issued a press release which I reproduced above without comment.

It's right and proper these allegations should be investigated. But a sense of proportion should prevail until the allegations have been proven and then appropriate action can be taken.

Brian's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 18:04

Andy, sorry to raise this again but why would such schools teach the full prescribed curriculum and be satisfied with just redacting a question?

Andy V's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 18:25

Brian, as I see/understand it that is the cleft stick they find themselves caught on (a) there is a statutory requirement to teach the full science curriculum, and (b) their own choice to redact.

Janet will know more on this than I do but it strikes me that any state funded school failing to cover the science curriculum and teaches an alternative to evolution will fall foul of Mr Gove's edict and in turn bring their funding into question.

Brian's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 19:21

Andy says (6:25. No reply button)

Agreed, a definite cleft stick. But I still can't see a school with a profound disagreement with Darwinism teaching it at all. What's the point of redacting a question if the students' minds are already filled with the idea. Surely they don't go for 'We're now about to spend a lot of time teaching you something which is nonsense, and which you won't need to learn or even engage with because we'll cross out any questions in the exam'.

I certainly can't see Gove wielding the big stick to make sure they do follow the full exam syllabus.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 19:32

Brian, while my gut tells me you're right my optimism is suggesting that after the latest round of academy issues and free school controversy leading to closures then if enough of a fuss is caused and an Ofsted unannounced visit can be triggered then there is hope for direct action. As I say ever the optimist :-)

Brian's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 19:45

Then I'm happy to be optimistic with you!

Andy V's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 20:53

Hope springs eternal:

It seems that a war of independence has broken out between Sir Michael and the Right Honourable Michael ...

Brian's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 21:07

And the DFE noted : "We have demonstrated before that where we find failure — whether in council-run schools, academies or free schools ...'

And the DFE spokesman who knows in what way councils run schools is ...? Might I suggest that anyone employed by the DfE should have heard of Local Management of Schools, the national curriculum, the powers of heads and governors to make all appointments, statutory national testing etc etc.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 13/03/2014 - 15:35

Andy - 'Fossil wonderlands - Nature's hidden treasures'. The first of this three part BBC 4 series was brilliant. I strongly recommend the follow up programs.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Fri, 21/03/2014 - 13:48

A written response from OFQUAL ibn response to a MPS question about redaction of exam questions has been posted this week in the Houses of Parliament Library.

although it's dated 14th march OFQUAL admits that they were aware of the premature opening of exam papers by two schools last year but its clear that they are only now investigating them.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 21/03/2014 - 14:42

This is quite an encouraging OFQUAL response. At least it shows that the ball is still in play and that the principles are understood. We could do with the media picking this up again.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 21/03/2014 - 15:43

Re Rosie's excellent sharing of the Ofqual response (1.48 21/3/14) this chimes well with my comments relating to the potential damage/undermining of the integrity of a national examination - see para 4 of the Ofqual letter.

Speculation I know but if the exam board were approached by the school and gave approval then irrespective of the rights or wrongs of the schools actions the exam board needs a right royal rollicking. If the school didn't seek and gain prior approval then they should be penalised e.g. have their exam centre status removed for a period of time by the board involved.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 14:34

Andy - With regard to the origins of the universe, this article about recent discoveries is informative. Not all theories/speculations have equivalent value regardless of their entertainment value in the popular media.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 16:29

Roger, irrespective as to whether one quotes a ‘populist’ source, as you so disparagingly and pejoratively put it, or a higher order source the common factor is they both rely on speculation and theorising to support their positions. With regard to the ‘populist’ sources I am disappointed at the implied criticism of these – notably the Horizon programme – when they take the highly complex scientific theories and try to make them accessible to non-specialists. This does not in any way detract from the seriousness and/or authenticity of these theories, which I am sure the eminent and world renowned scientific authors of the theories would agree with (e.g. Stephen Hawking, Neil Turok, XIAO-GANG WEN).

I also watched episode 1 of the Wonderful world of fossils via iplayer and really enjoyed it but also noted the absolute honesty of the experts with their frequent and entirely appropriate use of the words ‘might’, ‘may’, ‘could’ and ‘probably’ in direct relation to the ideas and theories postulated.

For me then the outcome hasn’t changed in that neither science, nor religion have immutable, incontrovertible evidence to prove or disprove their respective positions. Thus whether the differing theories/speculations have equivalent value or not is irrelevant and arguably represents just another example of how people - scientist, theologian or religionist - use sophistry to try and make their point.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 16:55

Andy - OK I give up, we had better keep off science and religion and stick to education. Best wishes.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 17:08

:-) reciprocated

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