The British Humanist Association (BHA) have run a campaign with two goals; they announced yesterday that their aims have been achieved. The first was that no state–funded school should teach creationism or intelligent design as scientific theories and the second was for evolution to be included in the National Curriculum for 10 and 11 year olds. Previously this had only been a statutory requirement for 14 – 15 year olds.
The campaign was run with the support of organisations including the British Science Association and the Association for Science Education, and from 30 leading scientists including Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins .
The new national curriculum includes detail on statutory requirements for year 6 in the following areas;
1 Evolution and inheritance
Pupils should be taught to:
- recognise that living things have changed over time and that fossils provide information about living things that inhabited the Earth millions of years ago
- recognise that living things produce offspring of the same kind, but normally offspring vary and are not identical to their parents
- identify how animals and plants are adapted to suit their environment in different ways and that adaptation may lead to evolution
2.Animals including humans
Pupils should be taught to:
- identify and name the main parts of the human circulatory system, and describe the functions of the heart, blood vessels and blood
- recognise the impact of diet, exercise, drugs and lifestyle on the way their bodies function
- describe the ways in which nutrients and water are transported within animals, including humans
The BHA are to be congratulated on their successful campaign, which should mean a higher standard of science education for most state–educated children in this country.
However there are many state-educated children who will not benefit, since free schools and academies are not required to teach the National Curriculum. These schools can continue to use their own curriculum, and in the case of Steiner schools this is ”The Educational Tasks and Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum”, written by Tobias Richter and Martyn Rawson.
This describes evolution as a “Victorian” and “reductionist” concept and encourages children to believe in humans as separate from animals. The above category of the science curriculum on “animals including humans” would not suit these schools at all (see earlier post on uprightness)
Steiner students in Academies and free schools such as Hereford Steiner Academy where the Richter and Rawson curriculum book is used, are taught Steiner creationism as at least an equally valid alternative to evolution, and since the teachers are trained by reading Rudolf Steiner’s books on spiritual science and are free to interpret anthroposophy as they wish, we know that his wacky ideas about how humans are evolving, with animals as a bi-product, do get in to the classroom.
More on this in the book by Roy Wilkinson “The Spiritual Basis of Steiner Education”; Darwinian evolution does not feature in this subject by subject guide to Steiner education, and Roy says that the science teacher has a particularly difficult task;
“… he accepts as a fact that the physical world has a spiritual origin and is permeated by the spirit. Matter is the result of hierarchical activity.”p51
“Spiritual science agrees with the statement in the bible that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…This has a bearing naturally on what and how things are taught. For instance, the spiritual – scientific explanation of evolution is somewhat at variance with what is generally accepted elsewhere.” p59
I hope the BHA, Professor Dawkins and Sir David Attenborough do not think the job is done. What goes on in classrooms in schools run by faith groups (even those not identifying themselves as such) needs to be very carefully monitored. There is considerably more work needed in order to ensure all children educated by the state are given an adequate grounding in science.
Thanks to the BHA this could now be achieved by the government insisting that Free schools and Academies teach the National Curriculum (preferably by qualified teachers). It will be interesting to see how the political parties view this idea in the next few months before the election.