When is a science GCSE not a science GCSE?

When it’s from a faith school, and the exam boards have redacted all questions about evolution from the exams, in order to respect religious sensitivities.

Unfortunately, it’s not a joke.

Here’s the article from the Sunday Times (paywall) which broke the story about exam board OCR removing questions about evolution from the science GCSE papers at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School, a Jewish faith school in Hackney. And here’s a freely available summary of the story from the BBC.

Faith schools, in the form of CofE institutions, and a few Jewish ones, have been around for decades, although administrative changes by the government of Roman Catholic convert and supernaturalist Tony Blair have allowed for new faith schools to be opened by other religious groups since 1997. At the time, secularists like me argued that the very concept of “faith school” was an oxymoron. Education should be about evidence, critical thinking and intellectual challenge and growth; faith is the exact opposite. Our concerns, and warnings about the inevitable conflict in science education, were ignored. And now the “told you so” moment has arrived.

However, there’s a very simple solution to the current exam row. OCR and other exam boards should publish a list of all the schools which they’ve exempted from evolution questions. Employers and universities should keep an eye on that list. Because it’s pretty straightforward:

If you have a science GCSE from one of those schools, you don’t have a science GCSE.

Qualifications are only qualifications as long as they’re recognised. OCR and any other exam boards which follow suit will rapidly devalue their own certificates when it becomes known that particular subject areas haven’t been covered. The schools on the list will suffer even worse: their reputations for rigorous and comprehensive education will lie in tatters.

I’m a university admissions tutor, looking over an application form. It’s from a pupil at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School. She’s applying for engineering, has the requisite A-levels in maths and physics. She has 10 GCSEs, including science. A quick annotation in red pen: she has 9 GCSEs which I recognise. Biology may not be relevant to engineering some engineering, but it still puts her below a number of other candidates, who are otherwise equally strong, in a very competitive field. “I’m sorry, but your application was not successful, as we require all applicants for engineering to have a GCSE in science which covers the full curriculum.”

Imagine the rush of aspirational parents to move their children out of the now-toxic Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School.

6 thoughts on “When is a science GCSE not a science GCSE?

  1. You seem to be missing the fact that this is a Christian girl’s school, so their parents probably don’t want their girls to progress into science or engineering. Simply barring kids who’ve received these phony GCSEs from decent universities will lock them into a cultural ghetto. Most likely Christian universities will spring up to provide higher education, cementing the segregation.

    The only real solution is to place a lawful obligation on parents that their children go through some kind of accredited science education and that these kinds of faith based qualifications aren’t considered valid.

      • Ultra-orthodox Jewish, and I take your point. I’d unhesitatingly support a legal requirement for accredited science education, and also for faith schools to be told to wind their necks in, and OCR to stand up to them. I’ll be interested to see how this story is resolved, and whether Gove gets as worked up about accurate science education as he does about WW1.

  2. I think this argument contains its own counter-argument. You know perfectly well that your rally cry will meet no response from anyone who might have significant power. The police, NHS, schools, army – can you imagine any job in any of these, or even in any other area, where an employer might actually care? What I’d say if I was employing a, say, programmer would be “Oh, it looks like they’re some kind of fundamentalist religious person. Or were when they were a kid. Well, I guess that’ll make them a bit more interesting.”

    There’s a tiny area where I’d be worried – basically if they were going on to do some sort of biology research. Because not understanding evolution is just totally irrelevant to most areas of life. The only real purpose of having a good grasp of it is to use as a sort of cheap intellectual calling card: “Oh, hi, look at me, I’m not easily duped by ridiculous myths”

    • Yeah, the idea that employers would think that way is wishful thinking. It’s a bit more plausible that universities might though, because they at least care to some extent about truth in itself. And since many jobs require a university degree, they’d act as a filter.

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