First good news I’ve heard out of England in a while..
Evolution will become a compulsory subject for study in all state primary schools, the Government announced today.
Darwin’s theory of how life evolved through natural selection will be a legal requirement in science teaching from September 2011, although it will be left to schools to decide how this is done.
The move, which was welcomed by scientists, comes despite a drive to slim down the national curriculum for primary schools and leave teachers greater discretion over what to teach.
Church and other faith schools within the state system will have to comply although officials said the theory of evolution could be taught in a context that reflected a school’s ethos, in a similar way to compulsory sex education for children aged under 15.
“You could do that within the ethos of the school. If as a school, in consultation with governors and parents, you have a particular take on that, you would still be able to do that,” said a spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
The change, included in a Bill introduced in the Commons today, follows a review of the curriculum for primary schools published earlier this year by Sir Jim Rose.
A consultation on his proposals to loosen the number of formal topics taught in primary schools prompted calls for the curriculum explicitly to include evolution. More than 500 scientists and supporters signed an e-petition to Downing Street urging such a change.
The new curriculum is to include a requirement “to investigate and explain how plants and animals are ‘interdependent’ and are diverse and adapted to their environment by natural selection”.
The age at which children must be taught about evolution is not specified; it must be included in science lessons “in the later stage of the primary education”.
The Royal Society applauded the decision and said that it would send booklets to all teacher training colleges with information and advice for new teachers on how to explain natural selection.
Professor Sir Martin Taylor, its vice-president, said: “We are delighted to see evolution explicitly included in the primary curriculum. One of the most remarkable achievements of science over the last 200 years has been to show how humans and all other organisms on the Earth arose through the process of evolution.
“Learning about evolution can be an extraordinary, exciting and inspiring experience for children. Teachers should aim to explain why evolution by natural selection is the only known way of understanding all the available evidence.”
Teaching British history is to be another specific requirement for primary schools, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, announced.
The changes to slim down the curriculum mean scrapping the requirement to teach specific subjects and instead specifying six areas of learning in which, for example, history, geography and society could be combined.
Science and technology would become another such strand, as could English, communications and language, although “mathematical understanding” will remain separate.
Although British history will be mandatory, no monarchs, battles, rulers or events are specified. Guidance notes published with the curriculum refer to the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans when learning about invastions and settlement.