Further restrictions on teaching creationism and pseudoscience in academies and free schools

This is how the British Humanist Association described the Government’s recent announcement:

“The Government has changed the rules to preclude all Academies and Free Schools, both those that already exist and those that will open in the future, from teaching pseudoscientific ideas such as creationism as scientifically valid. The changes have been made through extending an explicit ban to all future Academies and Free Schools, but also by clarifying that it believes the requirement to teach a broad and balanced curriculum means no existing Academies and Free Schools can teach pseudoscience either. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the news as representing a significant step towards achieving one of its longstanding policy goals.

In 2012 the Government precluded all future Free Schools (i.e. those not already open) from teaching pseudoscience as science and required them to teach evolution, as well as requiring them to promote British values. However it decided not to extend these requirements to Academies, and these changes did not apply to Free Schools that already existed.

But in April the Government extended all of these rules to future stand-alone Academies (i.e. those not part of a multi-Academy trust that do not already exist), as well as introducing new rules to stop religious discrimination in Free Schools from extending beyond the areas of admissions, employment, RE and assemblies (i.e. into areas such as other parts of the curriculum, uniform or food policies).

Now the Government has also extended these rules to future Academies that are part of multi-Academy trusts, meaning all future Academies are covered by them. But in addition it has also introduced new clauses for Church Academies helpfully clarifying the meaning of creationism and the fact that it is a minority view within the Church of England and Catholic Church, but also stating that ‘the requirement on every academy and free school to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, in any case prevents the teaching of creationism as evidence based theory in any academy or free school.’

In other words, in the Government’s view, if an Academy or Free School teaches creationism as scientifically valid then it is breaking the requirement to provide a broad and balanced curriculum. As every Academy and Free School has this requirement in its funding agreement, the implication of this interpretation is that no Academy and Free School, existing or future, can teach pseudoscience.”

It may just be worth clarifying the point about existing academies: What the new Church model agreement does is to introduce a provision for new academies which use that model which explains that:

“The parties [i.e. the Secretary of State and the Academy Trust] recognise that the teaching of creationism is not part of prevailing practice in the English education system, but acknowledge that it is however important that all schools are clear about what is expected in terms of the curriculum which they need to provide. The parties further recognise that the requirement on every academy and free school to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, in any case prevents the teaching of creationism as evidence based theory in any academy or free school.”

Plainly, the Secretary of State could apply the same argument in relation to existing academies which have a requirement for a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ but, in those cases, it would just be his view, not a position necessarily agreed by the Academy Trust. It will be interesting to see if any of those Trusts disagree with the Secretary of State’s view on what is meant by ‘broad and balanced’. Presumably, if you believe in creationism, then you also believe that it is consistent with (indeed essential for) a broad and balanced curriculum. It will also be interesting to see if the Secretary of State then seeks to impose on such Trusts his view of what the term means. It would, of course, be a matter of construing the contract (i.e. the Funding Agreement). Time will tell whether the Secretary of State brings claims for breach of contract against Trusts which disagree with his view of what is meant by ‘broad and balanced’.

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