Creationist state school ‘unfit to teach’, say secularists

Jewish orthodox voluntary-aided school teaches the universe is 5,778 years old, and forbids men and women from shaking hands

Will Hazell

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The National Secular Society has written to the government urging it to investigate a faith school teaching pupils that the universe is 5,778 years old and that forbids male and female adults from shaking hands.

Beis Yaakov Primary School is a state-funded school for girls “from strictly orthodox Jewish families” in Barnet, North London.

According to the voluntary-aided school’s online visitor’s guide, the school only accepts the “biblical interpretation of creation as expounded by rabbinical teachings”. It does not, therefore, “teach or discuss evolution in any form” and pupils are taught “the age of the universe is 5,778 years old”.

The NSS has written to the schools minister Sir Theodore Agnew, saying that the school’s refusal to teach or discuss evolution is in breach of its legal obligation and it should face sanction, given that evolution is now a part of the primary science curriculum.

Beis Yaakov's visitor’s guide states: “Parents choose this school because our ethos closely mirrors the values and lifestyles of their homes.

“The society in which our girls live is a very protected one. They do not watch television and many do not have access to national newspapers or libraries. Pop culture is unknown and exposure to other religious experiences very limited.”

Referring to the standards that visitors are expected to adhere to, the guide says: “Men and women may not shake hands nor touch in any other manner. (Men try not to walk in between two women and vice-versa).”

The guide says that “sexual matters may not be spoken about in any context” and “personal relationships must not be discussed at all”.

It also says “all references to TV programmes and the internet should be avoided”.

The NSS said the school’s insistence that personal relationships must not be discussed “could place children at risk by denying them the knowledge and life skills needed to stay safe and develop healthy relationships”.

The secularist organisation is calling on the Department for Education to instruct inspectors to investigate whether it “meets the requirements to receive public funding or even be registered as a school at all”.

Stephen Evans, NSS campaigns director, said: “The schools we all pay for should educate and open young minds, not indoctrinate them. Having an official policy stating that the age of the universe is 5,778 years old clearly undermines the teaching of established scientific theory.

“Religious demands and parental preferences must no longer provide cover for the state to ignore children’s independent rights. All young people should be entitled to the highest standards of education, regardless of their background.

“Any school that promotes creationist beliefs as fact, shields its pupils from modern technology and media, and promotes discriminatory dress codes is clearly unfit to teach.”

In its letter to the government, the NSS claims the “promotion of gender segregation as instructed by the school’s visitor’s guide is counter to British values, and that the requirements for married women entering the school to cover their hair is in violation of the Equality Act 2010”.

Beis Yaakov was rated “good” by Ofsted in 2015.

Earlier this month, Ofsted won a landmark legal case when the Court of Appeal ruled that an Islamic school’s policy of segregating girls from boys represented unlawful sex discrimination.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “The government expects pupils in all state funded schools to study the nature of, and evidence for, evolution. Creationism has no place in the science curriculum at any state funded school and should not be taught as a valid alternative to scientific theories.”

Beis Yaakov school were contacted for comment.

UPDATE 4.35pm 01/11/2017: Beis Yaakov has replaced its online visitor's guide with a new document which makes no reference to its stance on evolution, dress code, or expectations for personal conduct between men and women.

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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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