Scientists agree that primary school curriculum needs revising

By staff writers
July 29, 2009

Twenty-six of the UK’s top scientists and science educators including among them three Nobel laureates; Richard Dawkins, former professor for the public understanding of science at the University of Oxford; TV presenter Adam Hart Davis; and science education experts James Williams and the Rev Professor Michael Reiss, have called on the Government to make vital changes to the new science curriculum proposed for primary schools in England.

The new curriculum, which has been proposed by a government commissioned review, was put out to a public consultation which closed last week. The government will now consider the responses made and make final decisions about the content of the curriculum in the autumn.

A joint letter has been written to Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families which seeks a number of changes. Amongst these are the requirement for the curriculum to cover evolution and natural selection and to make reference to the sense of fulfillment that scientific endeavour can inspire and the use of science in equipping pupils to engage in important public discussions about scientific issues.

The letter was organised by the British Humanist Association which "promotes a rounded curriculum including good science education as part of its educational mission", and its signatory includes a leading Anglican science educator.

The Rev Professor Michael Reiss came to prominence last year when ambiguous comments he made about creationism in science classrooms (he advocated engaging with children to encourage them towards a scientific view, not "teaching creationism") led to him being removed from his post as Director of Education at the Royal Society - the nation's leading professional scientific body.

Reiss was attacked at the time by the atheist proselytiser Richard Dawkins, but the former Oxford Professor later apologised for implying that it was inappropriate to have an Anglican priest as one of the UK's most senior science education advisers.

Yesterday, the Rev Professor Reiss reaffirmed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme his view that evolution needed to be mentioned explicitly in the curriculum.

But he said that he was "encouraged" by Dawn Primarolo, government Minister for Children and Young People, who directly acknowledged the importance of evolutionary thinking to a range of subjects.

She said that the aim of Ed Balls' draft document was to ensure that particular topics were explored across a spectrum of subjects, rather than 'pigeon-holed' in one.

Nevertheless, the Rev Professor Reiss said he hoped that explicit references would be made to evolution.

Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education, commented on the scientists' letter: "Science is not only key to understanding the world around us, but it is also vital for democratic citizenship. Without an understanding of key concepts people can not properly engage with public debates around the scientific and technological topics which will directly affect their lives. The primary curriculum needs to prepare children for this reality."

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