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Ministers have criticised Britain’s biggest exam board after pupils were asked to explain “why some people are prejudiced against Jews” as part of a GCSE.More than 1,000 teenagers are believed to have sat the religious studies test paper which challenged pupils to assess the reasons behind anti-Semitism.
The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, which set the exam, said the question acknowledged that “some people hold prejudices” – and did not attempt to justify them.
But the move has prompted criticism from the Government and religious leaders.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, branded the move “insensitive”.
He told The Jewish Chronicle: “To suggest that anti-Semitism can ever be explained, rather than condemned, is insensitive and, frankly, bizarre. AQA needs to explain how and why this question was included in an exam paper.”
Mr Gove added that it was “the duty of politicians to fight prejudice, and with anti-Semitism on the rise we need to be especially vigilant”.
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “Clearly this is unacceptable and has nothing whatsoever to do with Jews or Judaism.”
Pupils across Britain sat the GCSE exam in religious studies last week. It contained the question: “Explain, briefly, why some people are prejudiced against Jews.”
A spokeswoman for AQA told The Jewish Chronicle that the question “acknowledges that some people hold prejudices; it does not imply in any way that prejudice is justified”.
The exam board insisted that the question was part of a paper focusing on Judaism and the “relevant part of the syllabus covers prejudice and discrimination with reference to race, religion and the Jewish experience of persecution”.
“We would expect [students to refer] to the Holocaust to illustrate prejudice based on irrational fear, ignorance and scapegoating,” she said.
She added: “The board is obviously concerned that this question may have caused offence, as this was absolutely not our intention”.
Ofqual, the official exams regular, said that it was in discussion with AQA, adding: “We will take appropriate follow-up action if necessary.”
Rabbi David Meyer, the executive head of Hasmonean High School, whose pupils did not sit the AQA test, told the paper that the question had “no place” in an exam.
“The role of education is to remove prejudices and not to justify them,” he said.
But Clive Lawton, formerly an A-level chief examiner for religious studies, said: “I do understand why people might react negatively to the question, but it is a legitimate one.
“Part of the syllabus is that children must study the causes and origins of prejudice against Jews.”
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