Jewish school in England removes evolution questions

March 5, 2014 • 1:13 pm

From the BBC News London, we learn that a Jewish girls’ school in London has removed questions about evolution from exams.

A Jewish girls school in Hackney has been redacting questions on evolution on science exam papers because they do not fit in with their beliefs.

Fifty-two papers were altered by Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School to remove questions on evolution.

The examinations body, OCR, says it was satisfied that the girls did not have an unfair advantage. It now plans to allow the practice, saying it has come to an agreement with the school to protect the future integrity of the exams.

But Stephen Evans from the National Secular Society said children were being penalised by being denied access to marks on those papers.

The Department of Education meanwhile has asked for assurances that the children will be taught the full curriculum.

There’s a video at the site, but I can’t embed it. Although the practice doesn’t appear to be illegal right now, it surely will when a nationally standardized science curriculum is instituted this fall.

It’s  time for Britain to get rid of its state-supported faith schools. Given that parents can (unfortunately) legally proselytize their children at home, there is no justification for publicly supporting religious education outside the home. Really, my British readers, why do you tolerate this? After all, you’re supposed to be more enlightened, and less marinated in faith, than us Americans. Yes, I know you have no First Amendment, but you didn’t have to pass laws allowing such schools!

89 thoughts on “Jewish school in England removes evolution questions

  1. “Although the practice doesn’t appear to be illegal right now, it surely will when a nationally standardized science curriculum is instituted this fall.”

    Not so. Free Schools, a whole new category, many of them faith-based, will not have to follow the National Curriculum. In justification the Govt said that there was no need to require them to since they would need to prepare their students for exams. exams that, as we now learn,they will be allowed to censor.

  2. Britain is supposed to be more enlightened but they are also more polite than the rest of us & this gets them in trouble sometimes. Luckily, they go through this stuff before Canada does so we get the heads up when it starts happening to us!

      1. Yes, I think we often come off as rude to them in meetings because we often got right to our questions without the social overhead. 🙂

      2. Reminds me of a joke… sorry in advance if you’ve heard it:

        Q: How do you get 100 drunk rowdy Canadians to quit horsing around in the pool?

        A: Quietly ask them if they wouldn’t mind not horsing around in the pool.

        1. A friend of mine has a theory that Canadians are polite but Americans are friendly. We say, “please”, “thank-you”, “sorry” but we are also reserved and don’t want to tell you all about ourselves when you meet us. Americans are friendlier – they get to know you quickly.

          1. I’m with you on that, Diana. Getting to be known should be my choice. The fact I’m sitting in the seat opposite a stranger rates a polite ‘Hi’ but I don’t need to know his name and I see no reason to tell him mine. In fact I quite strongly resent being obliged (by politeness) to introduce myself, unless there’s some valid reason to. Maybe I’m just (selectively) anti-social.

          2. My aunt who is from NZ and lives in California is typically friendly. I find her annoying because she spends forever talking to a stranger and delays us. 🙂 My mom is the same. I told them at as a Canadian, they embarrass me.

  3. Yes, I know you have no First Amendment, but you didn’t have to pass laws allowing such schools!

    You can blame the smug, self-righteous Tony Bliar for this one.

      1. What you really mean is “he anounced his conversion after he left office”. It’s not quite the same thing.

          1. Well, that depends on if you see full communion as defining a conversion.

            > For a long time he has been a regular worshipper at Mass < indicates an earlier spiritual commitment.


  4. I don’t tolerate it. But unfortunately we don’t have a sufficient number of people who consider the issue to be sufficiently important to make a policy difference. Faith schools are a running sore, but we have a lot of other issues too.

    1. Many of us don’t and the BHA and NSS continue to oppose faith schools and highlight such egregious faults as this. The BHA has an active campaign against faith schools that all concerned secularists — really, anyone concerned about educational standards – should support.


  5. “The examinations body, OCR, says it was satisfied that the girls did not have an unfair advantage”

    Who would ever suggest they did? How can it be anything but a disadvantage to have questions that they can’t answer because they can’t even read them??

    “It’s time for Britain to get rid of its state-supported faith schools.”

    That’s exactly right. Another fine mess we have Blair to blame for.

      1. True. But it was Blair that introduced them (at least under the guise that they operate now). Once that door was booted open it was always going to be an uphill struggle to close it again. Yes, Cameron and Clegg haven’t tried, but it may simply be a hornet’s nest that they don’t fancy kicking.

        As for Warsi? Worse than useless.

        1. CXameron and Clegg (or more specifically Gove) have made it far easier to open religious faith Schools; you don’t even have to put up any private money now. But Blair himself was at the opening of the new building for the school at the centre of this story.

    1. Faith based education is a huge problem in Northern Ireland — 90% of students go to faith schools, a leading factor in perpetuating the conflict there.

      1. Yep, complete bonkers. Even worse is the policy of segregating off the children of the immigrant Muslim population and educating them separately. What a mind-bogglingly idiotic policy that is for societal integration and the future of our country.

      2. Jesus (no pun intended), if there was anywhere we should have learnt the dangers of such practices it’s NI. That’s the thing, Labour liked to talk about multicultralism and integration, but what could be more divisive than separating children along lines of their cultural identity? It means they never meet different people; they never make friends with them; they never learn about their different ways of life; they never get to realise that deep down they’re all the same really. It’s a recipe for disaster. One that NI has already shown. It beggers belief and infuriates me in equal measure.

        1. Echo sentiments about multi-culturalism and integration. Originally from Philadelphia and accustomed to ethnic, religious, as well as diverse “sections” but with that overall diversity came a beautiful integration that was rich with intellect, culture, and community.

          Have since moved to upstate New York. Much has changed since the World Trade Center tragedy — many finding religion, the religious holding on more tightly, more books are banned, educators on all levels finding it more difficult not to offend sensibilities, increased religious and racial tension, emotionally segregated communities…

          Never dreamed I’d see such a cultural change but rather an evolved version of what I experienced in Philly. Children deserve that freedom, to experience different ways of life to help them develop without the restrictions of some type of orthodox lifestyle. If they choose that later in life at least they benefitted from a culturally rich childhood. Parents can only encourage this if the communities allow, same the other way round…

        2. Exactly.

          Someone in government said “Our pilot study of Faith Schools in Northern Ireland has worked brilliantly, lets roll it out over the rest of the country”.

  6. It’s at this point we are reminded that evolution denial is the reaction of fundamentalist Christian communities to Richard Dawkins’ acerbic writing on the subject.

      1. Kelskye:

        I got it the first time around.

        But the fact remains that irony, mockery, sarcasm, or even joking and simple facetiousness (the gaiety of spirit) does not go through easily on the Internet.

        Some cues are needed, usually obvious in speech or conversation, but on the Net you need emoticons or some allusion (“hey! I was joking!”) to prevent the grossest of misunderstanding.

        Using an outrageous word for fun, or to revitalize a banal phrase, can get you into all kinds of annoyance in having to explain your real meaning and repair the goodwill you enjoyed before your irony went awry.

        It’s a lesson we all learn the hard way. Irony works well only among people who are already on the same wavelength and share the same kind of mental and cultural background. Friends usually get the kidding at once.

        If not, trouble starts immediately, and a lot of ink has to be spent to re-establish a common ground.

        1. I see your point, Roo, though I would have thought that this would be a place where people would have been on a similar wavelength.

          I guess that’s the problem with deadpan humour in general. The whole point is such a characterisation is absurd, and any embellishment indicating a joke would only detract from it.

          1. I see Roo’s point, too, but I also absolutely love deadpan humor, and in this case I thought it was perfectly obvious that was what you were doing.

          2. What I worry about is that a christian will read it and start spreading it as fact. At the least, a naked statement like that obliges someone else in the community to respond in some way to frame the statement humorously, otherwise to an outsider the statement appears to be accepted as is, by the community.

            Then again, I may be oversensitive about giving the enemy ammo for their weapons.

        2. I agree. Sometimes for the sake of art, we don’t want to destroy our masterpiece of irony by adding explanations that would simply ruin the effect. Let the yokels understand it, or they can keep stewing in their own juice.

          However, even wavelengths have various levels of amplitude, and we may find ourselves at a level of fine insinuation that may end up misunderstood. The “theory of mind” does not work all the time.

          We have to weigh instinctively the value of our artistic integrity against the trouble caused if our ironical intention misfires. Sometimes the trouble can be such a monumental headache, that it seems common sense to renounce our artistic pretensions.

          Only a supremely self-confident master will not willingly go by common sense and may choose to destroy or withdraw his work rather than have it vulgarized for ordinary minds or bow to the expectations of censors.

          Mozart threatened to throw the 500+ page manuscript of his opera “Le Nozze di Figaro” into the fire if it was not performed at the court of the Austrian emperor. Its source, a French play, was banned in Austria, and the opera showed a low-ranking servant, Figaro, besting his noble master, a sign of the revolutionary spirit of the mid-1780s.

          Mark Twain, in the same vein, never backed down, in his sarcasms and ironic jibes, to the fear of alienating obtuse or religious readers.

          But if you’re a host or guest on NBC you’ve got to be extremely careful about what jokes and ironical phrases you may be tempted to use. Think twice, and think quickly. It’s irony with consequences.

          1. Replies are beautifully written here. I’m very animated and speak with my hands so I don’t fare well with the written word and get myself in trouble with deadpan humour despite using email for 34 years. Not a real fan of emoticons but have to use them. On the other hand, I can interpret one’s serious comment as sarcasm, irony, humour, and such and respond so. That really gets me in trouble. Have a hard time apologizing or explaining out of that 😉

  7. Are these questions excised from past papers or from papers in actual exams? If the latter then this must be against the rules.

    I must admit that the teaching of evolution is pretty awful in the UK – it gets a couple of pages in a standard biology textbook. Strange really when the ideas of evolution by natural selection make so much of the rest of biology understandable. It’s like teaching chemistry without bothering to teach kinetic theory, or leaving out energy when teaching physics.

    1. The questions were redacted/blacked out from the actual GCSEs in science the students took during the summer of 2013 lest the students be exposed to bits of negative influences. I understood the issue was ‘resolved’ by all concerned with the exam questions remaining unaltered so it was a surprise to read the above article.

    2. I agree that evolution isn’t taught as well as it should be here in the UK. I have an 18 yr old and a 16 yr old both taking Biology exams this summer and they haven’t been taught evolution in anything like the depth they ought to have been, and it doesn’t seem to have moved on much either since I did my A levels.

  8. The reason is that the politicians don’t want to lose the religious vote, so they won’t do anything, at all, that would jeopardize it. The amount of times over the years I have written to my MP about religious issues just to receive a wish-wash reply.

    On a positive note, the Conservatives are in now, and David Cameron is a Christian. However, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband of the Lib Dems and Labour, respectively, are both atheists. If Lib Dem and Labour go into a coalition in the next election, we will have the first atheist PM and vice PM in history. Small steps.

    1. Nick Clegg (despite being an atheist) has a Catholic wife and sends his own children to a Catholic “faith” school. So, sadly, there is little expectation of help from that quarter.

    2. The fundamentalists are well organised as a constituency, and the only counter-measure is for defenders of reality to show themselves as a constituency too. Evan Harris, sorely missed ex-MP, says 20 letters to an MP are a lot. So if you’re in England specifically (education is devolved), get writing.

      FWIW, Cameron’s Christianity is pretty nominal. But personal conviction now plays little role in UK politics.

    3. Sad to say neither Clegg or Miliband have the guts to confronting the establishment about religion. As you say, it’s about votes – and being in power is more important than principles – that’s how Clegg is in the govt in the first place.

  9. From reading the British Humanist Association newsletter it is made clear that the faith schools are breaking the law and that this will not be tolerated. There is still a set national curriculum that everyone must follow, by censoring the questions the only thing it will do is ensure the students get lower grades because they can’t read the questions. Year 10 and Year 6 is about 14 and 10 year old students.

    If it is the June 2013 GCSE exam that was found to be censored you can download the paper here . Question 7bii asks about natural selection and is worth 6/75 marks.

    1. One or two ‘free” schools have either been closed or required to adjust their policies as they’ve required even non-Muslim teachers to wear hijabs and have adopted Sharia-compliant curricula. Egad!

  10. Really, my British readers, why do you tolerate this? After all, you’re supposed to be more enlightened, and less marinated in faith, than us Americans. Yes, I know you have no First Amendment, but you didn’t have to pass laws allowing such schools!

    Yes, amazing isn’t it? Why do we tolerate it? Well, several reasons:

    * Religion is much less threatening in the UK precisely because the nation is much less religious, so many people don’t see the harm in such things.

    * The politicians think that the religious are far more likely to alter their vote over this issue than the secular voters are.

    * The “faith” schools are popular and over-subscribed. This is because they have the power to select their pupils, and thus are *socially* selective, picking children whose parents jump through the hoops, whereas other state schools don’t have this power.

    * There is the history. Many of these schools were originally set up by churches over a century ago. The laws are not new, they have just been continued.

    1. Church of England schools are so embedded into the state system that removing them would be a monumental pain in the butt and not very popular because hardly anybody objects to CofE schools.

      CofE schools hardly even count as ‘faith schools’ a lot of the time. My son is in the process of enrolling at a CofE high school and during the entire process, the issue of God or religion just never comes up. In practice, the school is just as secular as any regular school.

      The problem is that the existence of large numbers of CofE schools makes it very hard to counter the “equal treatment” argument from other faiths.

      But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t insist on state funded schools fully complying with the national Curriculum and Ofsted requirements

      1. You don’t have to “remove” the CofE schools, you simply make them into schools for all that treat people equally.

        All you need do is (1) repeal the exemption in the 2010 Equality Act that allows them to discriminate over religion in admissions, and (2) pass a law repealing the compulsory-worship legislation and stating that any religious participation in schools must be optional and opt-in.

  11. ‘Get rid’ of the schools? If they’ve only just created them! And if this ignorant clown, Michael Gove, manages to have his way, the National Curriculum will stretch to include creationism and wotnot, quite possibly instead of evolution (even though ‘as well as’ would be bad enough already)! Buckle up, the new ‘dark ages’ are coming to Brit land.

  12. “Really, my British readers, why do you tolerate this?”

    As a Brit, I echo the frustration of your words wholeheartedly. In July 2012 I emailed Richard Dawkins personally (I don’t know him, but a mutual friend passed on the email for me) to ask if his foundation would be interested in a limited project to fund the start-up work for a professionally run campaign that would work towards the abolition of faith schools in the UK state education system. I linked to a quite detailed discussion I and some others had had in a thread on his site (, my comments start at 15). I got no reply, from him personally or from the UK branch of his foundation, which I also emailed.

    So, Jerry, when you next see Richard, why not ask him how he feels about it? Because I honestly don’t know. (Feel free to email me at for further details).

      1. Thanks for your post. Fair Admissions and Accord both address peripheral issues that do not challenge the existence of faith schools within the state system. I’m aware of the BHA’s full-time campaigner, and good for them (and him), but the idea that a single person like this, working within an existing organization with a generalist remit, can effect the kind of campaign that would be needed is precisely the problem we have to overcome before construction of the kind of campaigning *organization*, focused on this single issue and with the resources to mount and sustain a long-term, probably multi-decadal campaign, can begin. See my posts in the discussion I link to for more details (posts 15, 25, 32, 34, 49, 58, 64, and 93).

    1. He doesn’t like them, as he has made clear on numerous occasions. But, I don’t think you can expect people to fit in with your own agenda. Maybe he didn’t notice your posts, or doesn’t think that investing in your particular approach is the best way to resolve the issue.

      1. Well, it was an email to his individual address (a closely guarded secret, not known to me), not just posts on the website, and a reply, even through an intermediary, would have been merely polite even if the answer was that he wasn’t interested.

  13. I’m thinking of doing my driving test, but I don’t want to answer the written questions about traffic lights. The driving school in my town told me that traffic lights aren’t true. I want the driving license anyway, it’s just that I’ll drive as though the traffic lights aren’t there. I have the right to drive according to my personal beliefs.

    1. Indeed, traffic lights are thoroughly offensive to my beliefs. If the Creator wants us to die in a horrible traffic accident, It should be allowed to do so freely!

  14. Jerry, we “tolerate” it because we can do nothing about it, quickly at least. Our unelected Prime Minister is a brainless, slimy religion-pandering arsehole who cares more about offering a snappy soundbite than actually doing anything.

    It incenses me that Cameron’s “big society” (non)policy means that responsibility for our children’s education (among other things) is handled loosely by our government, preferring to blindly trust the intentions of “free schools” which clearly have an ulterior motive.

    1. Our Prime Minister was elected, by the voters in his constituency. We don’t have a system like the US where everyone gets to vote for the PM. The only person you get to vote for is the local MP.

    2. David Cameron is not brainless. He got a 1st Class Hons degree in Politics, Philosophy, Economics (major in politics) at Oxford.

      So he does not have that excuse. He knows just what he’s doing. He is breaking up the state school system at all costs, in order to maximise social selection; a policy highly popular among his supporters. he is also buying the votes of fundamentalist enclaves.

      That’s how politics works in post-principle Westminster. The only counter-move is for supporters of science to act as a vocal constituency. So if you live in England, write to your MP about this – 20 letters to an MP is a lot.

      1. What disgusts me is that both Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband, who are both Atheists, turn out to be the most accommodating of our politicians when it comes to giving special rights for the religious here in the UK. Cameron, a quasi christian, at least can’t be accused of the gross hypocrisy of condoning such practices while holding totally differing views. Cultural relativism and pandering to the religious lobby totally dominate the thinking of the political left in the UK. Only yesterday Clegg went out of his way to defend the barbaric practise of Halal and Kosher ritual slaughter in the face of scientific measures on animal suffering from our veterinary authorities.
        The States may not have such Atheist politicians, but it does have the First Amendment. THAT is a far better situation.

  15. One reason I think is that the British Left went the full multi-culti route, empowering ‘communities’, and it turned out that the ones who claimed to be the spokesmen for those communities were older conservative religious males- which delighted the British Right, who used that to fortify their own conservative religious practices..

    1. Religion, by its very definition, is a power game. British political, class and religious history are three sides of a coin. None of this trinity is really interested in scientific truth.

    2. Indeed. IMHO half of Britain’s problems are caused by the fact that the Left are doing the Right’s work for them, instead of opposing them.

      The Labour party has been completely hijacked by the middle class while Unions get shafted time and time again.

  16. How will the school headmaster and teachers react when their students fail their science or biology A levels and even their O levels in those subjects, I wonder? It will prevent many of those girls to be accepted into universities if they wish to read science or biology.

    1. One might wonder whether these girls are meant to continue their education at universities. Remember, this is a very strict orthodox school – most people in this community don’t even have tv or internet. The school is probably already quite annoyed that their students have to be taught arithmetics and other stuff they won’t use in the household &lt/sarcasm&gt

      1. Their studies are divided between secular and religious as well as Hebrew — their school days are much longer than those of secular education. It’s important for them to have a basic education and they strive to do well in their secular studies and they enjoy them as well.

        1. I almost wrote that but was afraid it was too much of a broad-stroke. Having been exposed to both cultures (in Philly and upstate NY), mostly Jewish though, have found there are similarities as much as there are great differences but perhaps in the end it reduces to the same thing. Think my bias towards Jews is interfering here 😉 Moi, non-religious Jew.

    2. Only those questions specific to evolution were redacted. They may not do as well as other students but they do pass the sciences.

      The women in this sect of Jews known as the Charedim are often married at an early age (arranged) and start families with the aim of having many children. Their world revolves around family and Jewish life. A secular education isn’t so important for them. They are a particularly insulated group believing they live closest to what G*d intended. Although not as heavily as their husbands, they are still involved in Jewish studies and of course a Jewish lifestyle which is actually quite time consuming particularly if you have children. It may sound a bit wretched but for the most part they are happy. Life may not be easy at times but they are driven by a communal purpose. Unlike other ultra-orthodox groups, they do not believe in modern technology and do not use the internet, have telly, and so on.

  17. This was in the Sunday Times. It makes me very cross. The trouble is there would be no state willingness to take up the slack in funding if we ended religion supported schools.

    1. Another reason for ensuring that what they teach is not imbued with propaganda which ends up dividing societies eg the educational divide of RC v Protestant schools in Northern Ireland.

      1. Was living in Belfast till last year: the Protestant Church there wears jackboots. Glad I had no kids to send to school there. Saw the marches, clashes with police, shouting about the flag. Feeling of hopelessness that things will ever change. I’m AngloIrish and am not taking a sectarian position, but I have my reasons for antipathy to any form of religion. The main reason is that ALL religions are based on a fundamental self-lie about the nature of reality.

  18. Its worse than you think. I used to work in a faith school–indeed this was got me interested in evolutionary theory. Students answering questions about biology/psychology (evolution) physics (age of the universe) or geography (age of the planet) were allowed to write–on national curriculum exam papers–what their Rabbis told them was “part of the school ethos”. This was on exams for entry to university

  19. The reason there are so many religion-based schools in England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own arrangements) is that the history of these countries can’t be changed at the stroke of a pen. The education system in this country was created by religious organisations as church schools, or schools were charitable foundations set up, usually, at the prompting of faithful duty that was all-pervasive and that was very rarely questioned. The schools were supplemented by Dame shools (where children were taught fundamentals) and more organised schools in larger villages and towns that charged pupils for their education. The secondary school I attended was set up in 1723 for boys of the town. The vestigies of it still exists today as part of the state system.
    The State didn’t get systematically involved until 1870 when local school boards were set up in areas where education was missing. The church-based schools were absorbed into the state system while maintaining a certain amount of autonomy by becoming Voluntary Aided (VA) or Voluntary Controlled (VC) schools. Having given this legal concession to the CofE, over time it had to be extended to the Methodists, Catholics, Jews and, today, Muslims and Hindus.
    The situation has be clouded in recent years by the development of ‘Free’ schools which can be set up by any organisation that can demonstrate an acceptable educational ethos and business plan to the Department of Education. While Tony Blair’s government must accept some of the blame for promoting this abomination, the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School is Voluntary Aided, founded in 1947, so it’s older than he is.
    This is a much simplified history. The UK educational system has become increasingly politicised and new layers are added to the old for ideological and not educational reasons, and it’s much cheaper not to change deeply entrenched habits.

  20. I don’t get involved in questions of schooling. Apart from employing people – which is done on a meritocratic basis – I don’t have any involvement with the schooling system any more.

  21. I know this is old now, but English readers in particular please note: the British Humanist Association is organising a letter-writing campaign to MPs on this and other aspects of creationism in publicly funded classrooms. I give background and campaign link at Creationism in the classroom; in 2 minutes you can help stop it; why you should

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *