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Evolution debate could spell extinction for some free schools

30/11/2012 Joanna
For some organisations and parents, the appeal of free schools has been that they allow them to take a more active role in shaping a child's education.

These establishments, the first of which were introduced last year, can be set up by all manner of interested parties and have a wide range of freedoms - with teachers not necessarily even needing Qualified Teacher Status to work in a free school.

Of course, others have seen such freedoms as having the potential for harming the education received by children. One area where there has been fierce debate is evolution, with scientists in teaching jobs and education groups concerned that the rules governing its teaching are not currently tight enough.

Some have even feared that free schools set up by religious groups or charities would have the power not to teach evolution or to undermine it in science lessons.

However, new government rules will see free schools lose their funding from next year if they attempt to present the creationist view that God made the world as fact.

The rules will also require free schools in England to teach evolution as a "comprehensive and coherent scientific theory".

Welcoming the news, Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, told the BBC that under the existing rules, creationism could only be taught in religious education lessons.

However, he added: "The Royal Society identified a potential issue that schools could have avoided teaching evolution by natural selection in science lessons or dealt with it in such a perfunctory way, that the main experience for students was the creationist myth."

Free schools receive funding directly from the government, but can be run by parents, teachers, charities, religious groups and other organisations. They are also not under any obligation to follow the national curriculum.

Sir Paul said the threat of loss of funding should help ensure that all free schools provide children with the opportunity to learn about evolution "as an extensively evidenced theory and one of the most fundamentally important tenets of modern biology".

To date, three organisations with creationist views have had their plans to open free schools approved, with Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland reopening as a free school in September. The other two are set to open in 2013.

Posted by Harriet McGowanADNFCR-2164-ID-801498795-ADNFCR
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