Evolution classes for primary pupils

Children at primary school are to be given compulsory lessons on evolution for the first time under a shake-up of the curriculum unveiled yesterday.

The move follows protests from scientists that there had been no mention of the topic in a previous consultation document published earlier. Some said the topic, to be introduced in science lessons, was necessary to combat growing attempts to bring creationism into the curriculum.

Announcing the move, Schools minister, Vernon Coaker, said: "Lots of teachers came forward and said it should be part of the compulsory programme of study."

Under the proposals, children would start to learn about Darwin's theory on the origins of species during their later years in primary school. The new change would be brought in from September 2011. The move was welcomed by the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science, whose vice-president, Sir Martin Taylor, said: "Teachers should aim to explain why evolution by natural selection is the only known way of understanding all the available evidence. Learning about evolution can be an extraordinary, exciting and inspiring experience for children."

The move was one of only two changes to the primary school curriculum recommended in a government review by Sir Jim Rose, a former inspector with the education standards watchdog Ofsted, which was accepted by ministers in April.

The second change is to give more emphasis to the teaching of British history in primary schools. Ministers said they had chosen to "reinforce" the subject following fears that it could be sidelined under proposals to include all subjects under six new areas of learning – which have history and geography as part of just one topic heading.

The curriculum guidance includes a reference to the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans as examples of what pupils could be taught.

Other key proposals accepted from the review include making it compulsory for every child to learn a modern foreign language from the age of seven. The proposals were included in the Education Bill introduced to Parliament yesterday.