Exam questions redacted

News from the British Humanist Association:

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed alarm after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed that Ofqual, OCR and other exam boards have been reaching agreements with at least one and seemingly several state funded ‘faith’ schools to allow them to black out exam questions on evolution, where such questions are deemed incompatible with the schools’ religious ethos.

If a “school” has a “religious ethos” that is incompatible with teaching about evolution then it’s not a “school”; it’s a religious institution of some kind. It’s not education, it’s not teaching, it’s not a school, if there is a religious filter on the content.

The information came to light after Yesoday Hatorah Senior Girls School, a state-maintained Charedi Jewish secondary school in Hackney, was found last October to have blacked out a question on evolution in pupils’ GCSE science exams. An FOI request found the exam board in question, OCR, writing to Ofqual, the Office for Qualifications and Examinations Regulation: ‘In our deliberations we have reached the conclusion the most proportionate and reasonable approach would be to come to an agreement with the centres concerned which will protect the future integrity of our examinations – by stipulating how, when and where the redactions take place – but at the same time respect their need to do this in view of their religious beliefs. We believe we need to be mindful of the fact that if we do not come to an agreement with the centres we could be seen as creating a barrier to accessing the examinations for the candidates.’

There shouldn’t be any official “respect” for “beliefs” that forbid teaching the best scientific knowledge.

This is one time when some abrupt tweets from Richard Dawkins would be suitable.


  1. Peter B says

    Go ahead. Omit the question. Count the non-answer the same as any other non-answer.

  2. dmcclean says

    Not a very good solution, Peter B. It doesn’t respect the student’s right to choose his or her own religious beliefs, and it doesn’t offer the student a fair chance to score well on an important examination.

    Students, of course, should feel free to not answer on religious grounds or any other.

  3. rq says

    It’s the schools and teachers doing the blacking out, not the students – so the students still aren’t being allowed to exercise their right to choose.
    Leave the question. Let the students read it and choose for themselves. No marks for not answering. They get their fair chance, and if their religious beliefs are more important to them than science and a proper education, so be it.
    Yes, it’s an important (I presume secular) examination. They’d get far more of a fair chance if they were actually taught the stuff they need to know to pass.

  4. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    So what about math questions that suggest that pi is something other than 3?

  5. iknklast says

    I’m actually good with that…provided they also black out the names of all their students who took that test on any lists of graduates.

  6. noxiousnan says

    What’s that whistle? Our free-fall into educational obscurity on the global scale.

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