Charedi fear over Gove education reforms

Michael Gove: focus on evolution (Photo: AP)

Michael Gove: focus on evolution (Photo: AP)

Education Secretary Michael Gove’s wish to put a greater focus on evolution in the GCSE science curriculum could pose problems for strictly Orthodox schools, a Jewish education consultant warned this week.

The minister announced the move on Tuesday as part of his reforms to raise the standard of school exams.

But Michael Cohen, an adviser to Orthodox schools, said: “I don’t see Charedi schools going along with it. It is something that flies in face of their ethos and culture. It is clear this kind of proposal is definitely going to create difficulties for Charedi schools.”

Mr Gove’s plans to make evolution a compulsory part of the primary school curriculum have already caused consternation among Charedi educators and the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools has lobbied his department for a rethink.

A draft primary curriculum says that young children should study fossils as evidence of evolution, know about Charles Darwin and understand how the human skeleton has evolved “since we separated from other primates”.

While modern Orthodox schools feel able to reconcile evolution with Jewish teachings on creation, Charedi schools regard it as opposed to traditional doctrine.

If greater emphasis were put on evolution at GCSE, Charedi pupils would be likely to have to sacrifice marks by ignoring the topic.

Mr Cohen believed that Jewish schools generally would welcome the thrust of Mr Gove’s reforms for “ a more rigorous and academic approach”.

But he added: “It is important to recognise that Charedi schools have been set up by their community and parents send them to these schools where they know they will be kept away from delicate, sensitive or problematic issues like evolution.”

Unconfirmed reports on the internet this week suggested that a question deemed unsuitable by Charedi teachers in a GSCE science exam this year was blacked out for pupils who sat it.

Rabbi Avraham Pinter, principal of the state-aided Chasidic girls’ secondary school, Yesodey Hatorah, said he was unaware of the details of science papers this year.

But he confirmed that “sometimes Charedi schools, if they find anything in the paper which could be offensive to parents, advise children to avoid that question”.

He said that he expected Charedi concerns to be raised in consultations about the reforms. “We are confident that the government will take into consideration the educational priorities of parents and children of all faiths, and ensure that this topic is covered in a balanced and sensitive manner.

Last updated: 11:45am, June 14 2013