THE teaching of young earth creationism in Scottish schools has been debated fiercely in recent weeks, but reporting by the media has been somewhat confusing.

The genesis of the discussion was a petition from the Scottish Secular Society (SSS) calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance, as is the case in England and Wales.

The SSS wants the new guidance to "bar the presentation in Scottish publicly-funded schools of separate creation and of young earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time".

The reason given was that the SSS believes schools are now being subjected to what they describe as an "attack" on established scientific theories from imported US doctrines known as creation science and intelligent design.

The SSS said this pressure places school staff in an impossible position and that guidance is necessary to give a clear lead as to what is considered acceptable or unacceptable in science lessons.

In its petition the SSS also quotes "unacceptable" and "scandalous" examples where young earth creationist and explicitly anti-scientific materials have been handed to pupils in a Scottish primary school.

"In all these cases, and no doubt in many others that have not come to our attention, people with the best of intentions will be bringing creationist convictions into schools, and creating an atmosphere where it is difficult or embarrassing for teachers to challenge them. Thus one reason why guidance is needed is to support the teachers themselves against pressures," the petition states.

While this is an entirely legitimate position to hold, and one that is supported by a number of eminent academics, the problem for SSS is that representatives of the very people it is seeking to support came out strongly in opposition to any new guidance.

School Leaders' Scotland (SLS), which represents secondary headteachers, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country's largest teaching union, and more recently the Scottish Government have all written to the committee outlining their objections.

These organisations have spoken up for the long-standing principle that protection from extremist views in Scottish education relies on the professionalism of teaching staff and the regulatory role of bodies such as local authorities, the General Teaching Council for Scotland and the schools inspectorate. There is also the small matter of the science curriculum which teachers are expected to deliver.

Crucially, the Scottish Government also said there was no evidence young earth creationism had ever been taught in a Scottish science class.

Unfortunately, media reporting of these perspectives has been almost universally poor with the view of the unions and civil service depicted as in some way endorsing the teaching of young earth creationism.

Behind this ill-judged coverage is the rather inconvenient truth that the SSS, Scottish Government, EIS and SLS are all broadly in agreement that theories of young earth creationism have no place in science lessons. It is the mechanism by which we protect pupils from extremist views that is the real bone of contention.