School cancels play about Darwin and evolution after Christian parents complain

It has provoked anger among other families who call the decision 'shameful'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Thursday 07 February 2019 21:25
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School cancels play about Darwin and evolution after Christian parents complain

A primary school has cancelled a play about Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution following complaints from a group of Christian parents.

Several families threatened to withdraw their children from the play, which is aimed at 7- to 11-year-olds, as they felt one of the scenes “mocked” a bishop involved in a historic debate on evolution.

Hartford Manor Primary School, a non-religious community school in a village in Cheshire, decided to cancel the musical Darwin Rocks and replace it with a less divisive show following the objections.

But the decision to cancel the play has provoked anger among another group of parents who argue that it is “unacceptable” that their children have been denied a valuable learning opportunity.

Alan McDonald, a parent at the school who wants the production to be brought back, said: “It really does feel like a huge step backwards.

“It doesn’t seem evenhanded or in any way right.”

Mr McDonald, who is a scientist in the civil service, added: ”It is something that I think children should be learning about and this vehicle that they use is good.

“It seems ridiculous to whitewash history and replace it with something entirely vacuous.

“I think it is just a thinly veiled attempt to cram religious views over the top of scientific fact which I think is shameful personally.”

Another parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “It is simply unacceptable that religious fundamentalist views should have such influence in a community primary school and prevent children accessing what should have been a brilliant learning experience.”

They added that they were worried that there was a “conflict of interests” as the chair of governors at the non-faith community school is a local vicar.

As well as complaints around the portrayal of the English bishop Samuel Wilberforce, a number of Christian parents also had concerns about a song in the show about “bumping and grinding”.

Simon Kidwell, headteacher of Hartford Manor Primary School, said: “We thought it would be a problem to rewrite it. So we decided to change it.

“However, in hindsight I think that was a hasty decision. We could have put more effort into looking at whether we could have adapted it to make sure it was inclusive of everybody.

“I have apologised to the parents and we will consider putting it on in future years if we can make sure those bits are edited so it is inclusive for everybody.”

The head added that the chair of governors had not played a part in the decision to cancel the play.

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Stephen Evans, CEO of the National Secular Society, said: “We’re seeing a worrying trend of parents pressuring headteachers and threatening to withdraw children when teaching doesn’t fit their, often narrow, worldview.

“Schools should broaden pupils’ horizons and need to be supported to do that when faced with external pressure demanding that the education their children receive conforms with parents’ religious views.”

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