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Teachers Dismiss Calls For Creationism To Be Taught In School Science Lessons

Published:23 December 2008
Fieldwork:5-10 December 2008
Keywords:Education, Schools
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Nearly half (47%) of primary and secondary school teachers disagree that creationism should be taught alongside the theory of evolution and the Big Bang theory in science lessons in England and Wales, new research by Ipsos MORI(1) has found. This rises to two in three (65%) of those interviewed who cite science as their subject specialism (2). A minority of all teachers (37%) do that creationism should be taught (3).  Science specialists in the sample are significantly less likely then average to agree it should be taught, although nearly three in ten (29%) do say this.

The survey reveals that teachers' views are in line with DCSF guidance to schools on how to approach the ‘theory' of creationism within science lessons (4).  While the majority disagrees that creationism should be taught in science lessons, the majority (65%) also agrees that it should be discussed.  This rises to nearly three in four teachers in the sample with science as their subject specialism (73%). 

At the same time, few teachers overall support the outright dismissal of creationism as an idea.  Just one in four (26%) agree with the views expressed by Professor Chris Higgins, vice-chancellor of the University of Durham, that "creationism is completely unsupportable as a theory, and the only reason to mention creationism in schools is to enable teachers to demonstrate why the idea is scientific nonsense and has no basis in evidence or rational thought".  However, nearly half of science specialists in the sample (46%) agree with this statement.

Earlier this year, his comment that "creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view" led to the resignation of Professor Michael Reiss, the Royal Society's Director of Education(5)

Our November 2008 survey of a representative sample of 923 primary and secondary school teachers in England and Wales, using the Ipsos MORI Teachers Omnibus, provided an opportunity to measure teachers' positions in relation to the row which subsequently ensued. 

Over half of teachers surveyed (54%) disagree that creationism should be mentioned only to demonstrate that it is unsupportable, rising to two in three of those interviewed (67%) who cite humanities as their subject specialism.

Fiona Johnson, Head of Education research at Ipsos MORI and director of the Ipsos MORI Teachers Omnibus, said:

"Our findings suggest that many teachers are trying to adopt a measured approach to this contentious issue, an approach which attempts not only to explain the essential differences between scientific and other types of ‘theory', but also to acknowledge that - regardless of, or even despite, "the science" - pupils may have a variety of strongly held, and arguably equal value, faith-based beliefs.  Teachers are displaying a clear willingness to engage in broad-minded and inclusive debate on a topic which tends to polarise the experts from either ‘camp'."

Notes to editors

•1.                  Ipsos MORI interviewed 923 primary and secondary school teachers in England and Wales between 5 November and 10 December 2008.  Respondents are representative of all primary and secondary school teachers in England and Wales by sex, age, phase of teaching and Government Office Region.  Data were weighted at the analysis stage by sex, age and phase to the known profile of primary and secondary school teachers in England and Wales. For information on Ipsos MORI's Teachers Omnibus contact Fiona Johnson - Fiona.johnson@ipsos-mori.com

•2.                  Survey respondents are not representative of all primary and secondary school teachers in England and Wales by subject specialism, nor of particular subject practitioners.  Thus, it cannot be said, for example, that "65% of all teachers with a science background ..." or "65% of all science teachers ... disagree that creationism should be taught alongside the theory of evolution and the Big Bang theory in science lessons in England and Wales".

•3.                  The survey topline findings in full are:

Q1. 

To what extent do you agree or disagree that, alongside the theory of evolution and the Big Bang theory, creationism should be TAUGHT in science lessons?

Q2. 

To what extent do you agree or disagree that, alongside the theory of evolution and the Big Bang theory, creationism should be DISCUSSED in science lessons?

Q3. 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement:  "Creationism is completely unsupportable as a theory, and the only reason to mention creationism in schools is to enable teachers to demonstrate why the idea is scientific nonsense and has no basis in evidence or rational thought"?

 

 

Strongly agree

Tend to agree

Neither agree nor disagree

Tend to disagree

Strongly disagree

Don't know

Agree

Disagree

Q1

TAUGHT

14

23

12

17

30

4

37

47

Q2

DISCUSSED

24

42

8

9

14

3

65

23

Q3

UNSUPPORTABLE AS A THEORY

12

14

14

24

30

6

26

54

Base:  923 primary and secondary school teachers in England and Wales, Ipsos MORI Teachers Omnibus, 5 November-10 December 2008

 

•4.                  The guidance states that "Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science.  However, there is a real difference between teaching ‘x' and teaching about ‘x'.  Any questions about creationism and intelligent design which arise in science lessons, for example as a result of media coverage, could provide the opportunity to explain or explore why they are not considered to be scientific theories and, in the right context, why evolution is considered to be a scientific theory"

•5.                  The Royal Society's statement on the resignation of Professor Reiss, 16 September 2008, may be found at http://royalsociety.org/news.asp?id=8008 

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