The British Humanist Association (BHA) has responded to the UK Government’s consultation on reform of the national curriculum in England, and to its consultation on secondary school accountability. In its wide-ranging response to the former, the BHA has considered in detail issues around sex and relationships education, evolution and creationism, the removal of human rights from citizenship education, and the scientific method. It has also commented on the overall aims of the national curriculum and matters related to English, history, Collective Worship, spirituality and Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) development.
Points made in the response include:
Sex education in science: We are concerned that the proposed sex education elements of the curriculum are insufficient in ensuring that pupils’ needs are met, and in a few places, actively discourage education in this area. It is vital that sex education is age appropriate, but we believe that by year six, pupils should understand the basics of anatomy, puberty and sexual reproduction. We are alarmed that there is currently no mention of puberty at all.
Evolution: We are very pleased that evolution has been included in the primary national curriculum for the first time. Scientists and educational experts tell us that evolution is such a core topic in biology that it should be taught at this stage, and not from year ten, as is currently the case.
Pseudoscience: We would welcome an addition to the framework to make clear that teaching pseudoscience is unacceptable. We think this would work best in section 2, as several subjects are affected, but it could also appear in the science section.
The scientific method: We welcome the support for teaching the scientific method in the aims, and the presence of the ‘Working scientifically’ sections – especially now they have been integrated throughout all the other sections. But there are still weaknesses in terms of why the scientific method works, for example no discussion at all of correlation and causation, or of reliability of evidence.
Citizenship: We regret the removal of all references to equalities, human rights and freedom of speech, all of which we believe are very important. Young people should understand what they are, why they are so important and where they are found in UK and international law. We also have specific concerns about this subject as it is taught in ‘faith’ schools.
History: In twentieth century history, there is a section on ‘society and social reform, including the abolition of capital punishment, the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality, and the Race Relations Act’. Added to this should be ‘the rapid growth of non-religious beliefs and identities’.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘We very much welcome the fact that the proposed national curriculum will include the teaching of evolution in primary schools for the first time, and the strength of teaching around the scientific method.
However, we do have concerns that other areas of the curriculum need to be stronger. In particular, there needs to be stronger teaching about sex education in science, in order that young people have the knowledge and skills to make safe and fully informed decisions. And we are deeply disappointed by the proposed removal of human rights from the citizenship curriculum. Human rights are mentioned ten times in the current curriculum, including being defined, and it is vital that young people know what they are and how they relate to all our everyday lives.’