Twenty-six of the UK’s top scientists and science educators including three Nobel laureates, have called on the Government to protect and promote science in schools, with specific reference to the inclusion of evolution in the primary curriculum.
Those involved include the Rev Professor Michael Reiss, An Anglican priest and science education expert, as well as Richard Dawkins, former professor for the public understanding of science at the University of Oxford.
The broad range of signatories is intended to stress that good teaching of evolutionary theory and biology is something that people of all beliefs and backgrounds can and should get behind - despite the well-funded attempts of some from fundamentalist religious backgrounds to inhibit evidence-based teaching or get their own ideology on the school agenda.
The joint letter to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, has been organised by the British Humanist Association (BHA), which does a lot of work in the field of education, and has worked with the Christian think-tank Ekkesia and others in seeking clear and positive government guidelines on science teaching.
The letter was put together after key reforms put forward for the primary curriculum, which included evolution for the first time, were dropped just before the 6 May General Election.
Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, said, "It was a real victory for good education to have biology’s 'big idea' included in the primary science curriculum for the first time last year, and it was with huge disappointment that we saw those reforms lost. The teaching of science equips young people with the skills they need to understand the world around them in a critical way, and opens up the natural environment for inquiry. The skills children learn from science are life-skills and it is of the utmost importance that, whatever reforms are made to schools and curricula, science keeps a central place."
Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, commented: "Scientists and educators are rightly urging the Government, in the midst of some uncertainty about the impact of proposed changes to the running and sponsoring of schools, to ensure high quality teaching in this vital area. That includes resisting the blandishments and ploys of a persistent minority who may try to use Academies and so-called Free Schools to edge out factual teaching on evolutionary biology and edge in non-scientific creationist ideas - ones which are rejected by all the mainstream churches, and which are issues concerning the history of religion and belief, rather than scientific method and content."
Mr Gove has previously made it clear that he does not regard creationism as having any place in science teaching, a point also made under the previous Labour administration.
But there has been some concern among educators and scientists that the dropping of primary commitments may be indicating, if not a weakening of resolve, at least a lack of sufficient attention to the practicalities and content of science teaching. The signatories to the latest letter are seeking assurance and clarification on these issues.
Mr Copson explained: "As the central concept underlying biology, we want evolution to have an explicit inclusion in the curriculum in all schools. As increasing numbers of schools such as the new Academies will no longer have to follow the national curriculum, it is imperative that there is a firm basis for teaching evolution and natural selection, not least in light of the threat of creationism in science lessons in some schools."
This is something Professors Reiss and Dawkins, who are respectively known for their Christian and atheist convictions, are in firm agreement about.