Reporting by David Harrison
All new converter academies will be banned from teaching creationism and be obliged to give lessons about evolution, according to a new government document.
The schools will also have to promote principles that support “fundamental British values”, including respect for democracy and equality, a move understood to be aimed at countering extremism.
The changes, contained within a new “model funding agreement” for academies and free schools, will counteract criticisms from secularist campaigners who complained that legal loopholes left children vulnerable to religious and political indoctrination in school.
The move will bring new academies into line with free schools which have already been explicitly banned from teaching creationism for the past two years.
The reforms ban new academies from teaching any view or theory as evidence-based “if it is contrary to established scientific or historical evidence and explanations” in any subject. Evolution must be taught “as a comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidenced theory”, the new document says.
All new academies with also have to “ensure that principles are promoted which support fundamental British values, including respect for the basis on which the law is made and applied”. They must also show respect for different faiths, teach religious education and provide a daily act of collective worship.
In a change for free schools and new sponsored academies only, the document also says they must adopt policies on curriculum, uniform and school food that do not discriminate against any pupils. They must enable pupils “of all faiths and none” to play a full part in the life of the school “and not disadvantage pupils or parents of any faith or none.”
The requirement applies irrespective of the proportion of pupils of any faith currently attending or predicted to join the school, it says.
This change follows the situation at the Al-Madinah school in Derby where the school’s religious ethos was said to extend beyond admissions, RE and assemblies, including claims that female staff were required to wear Islamic headscarves.
A spokesperson for the British Humanist Association said the changes went “a long way to addressing our concerns about pseudoscience and extremism in free schools and academies" and said they were looking forward to working with the government to ensure their robust implementation.
“Two years ago the government precluded free schools from teaching creationism and required the teaching of evolution – but told us that similar changes would not be made with respect to academies. Since then we have been working hard to get these two clauses extended to academies and this has now happened.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “The funding agreements for academies and free schools have been restructured into one document and drafted in plain English, as part of an ongoing process of simplification.”
The department is currently developing updated model funding agreements for multi-academy trusts and non-mainstream academies.