The Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Exam board (OCR) launched an investigation into exam malpractice at the Yesodey Hatorah Jewish Voluntary Aided girls’ secondary school after the National Secular Society formally asked it to follow up unconfirmed reports that teachers had redacted questions in this year’s GSCE science exam.
The precise questions that were blacked out has not been revealed by OCR, but earlier this year a Jewish education consultant warned that evolution in the new GCSE science curriculum could pose problems for strictly Orthodox schools.
The investigation confirmed pupils were left disadvantaged by being unable to access 3 marks out of 75 for a unit in a higher GCSE science exam, and 1 mark out of 75 for a unit on a lower paper.
Earlier this year, Rabbi Avraham Pinter, principal of Yesodey Hatorah, admitted “sometimes Charedi schools, if they find anything in the paper which could be offensive to parents, advise children to avoid that question”.
Because people who are deeply entrenched in their ancient obsolete religion find science “offensive” and allow that infantile attitude to impede their children’s education, and state schools help the parents do that.
A spokesperson for OCR said: “We have tried to respect the religious and cultural sensitivities of this community whilst protecting the integrity of our exams. That said, we do not consider obscuring aspects of question papers to be good exam practice. We are raising the matter with the Department for Education and Ofsted as well as our fellow Awarding Bodies, through the Joint Council for Qualifications. We are also in the process of agreeing safeguards with the centre to ensure good exam practice in the context of today’s pluralistic society. Ofqual are also fully aware of our investigation and its outcome.”
I wish officials of all kinds would just stop saying things like that. It shouldn’t be the job of secular officials to “respect the religious and cultural sensitivities” of any community or of all communities. Furthermore, officials should stop talking about “communities” in that way at all, because it assumes that everyone in the putative community thinks exactly the same. It ignores the part played by coercion and pressure and approval/disapproval. It ignores how suffocating and stultifying it is to be trapped in a “community” and jostled into accepting all its beliefs, no matter how wrong and unsupported by reasons.
Yesodey Hatorah was founded in 1942 and operated as a private school until 2005 when it opted in to the state sector. It was launched as a state school with a high-profile visit from faith school enthusiast Tony Blair, then prime minister.
Girls attending Yesodey Hatorah are strongly discouraged from going to university. According to Rabbi Pinter: “Our experience, is that the better educated girls turn out to be the most successful mothers. For us, that’s the most important role a woman plays.”
Who’s “us”? Who’s the we in that “our experience”? And what good is that experience when it’s the product of coercion such as “strongly discourage[ing]” girls from going to university?