British Humanists are protesting the British government’s decision to fund 33 new faith schools, three of which are committed to teaching creationism. The faith schools are part of a government program of promoting “Free Schools” that are funded by the government but run by non-government entities such as churches and businesses.
On Friday, the Department for Education announced that 102 new Free Schools have been ‘pre-approved’ to open from next year – 33 of which are ‘faith’ schools. The faith schools include eight run by the Church of England and another 13 run by other Christian denominations, including Protestants, Catholics and Greek Orthodox. In addition, there are four Sikh, three Jewish, three Muslim, one Hindu, and one ‘multi-faith/spiritual’ school.
After examining the schools’ educational policies, the British Humanist Association (BHA) revealed that three of them were planning to teach creationism.
Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland, currently a private school but approved last October by the Department for Education (DfE) to open as a Free School from this September, has a ‘Creation Policy’ on its website in which they ‘affirm that to believe in God’s creation of the world is an entirely respectable position scientifically and rationally” and state they will “teach creation as a scientific theory”; while Sevenoaks Christian School, a secondary school in Kent approved to open from 2013, sets out the creationist beliefs of the school’s founders, and explains that creationism will be taught in Religious Education (RE).
The BHA also revealed that one of the proposed schools, ‘Exemplar – Newark Business Academy’, was from a creationist group that last year had its bid rejected by the Government due to concerns around teaching creationism. When rejecting that bid, the DfE said that Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove “was unable to accept that an organisation with creationist beliefs could prevent these views being reflected in the teaching in the school and in its other activities”. However, Mr Gove approved the same group a year later, after they promised to only teach creationism in RE, not science.
Andrew Copson, BHA chief executive and IHEU vice president, said, “Grindon Hall Christian School is a classic example of the so-called ‘teach the controversy’ approach, often used by American creationist groups to get creationism taught in schools. Creationists do not argue that evolution should be taught; they simply argue that there is genuine scientific debate over the origins of the Universe and the Earth, and that therefore creationism should be taught alongside evolution. The issue with the ‘teach the controversy’ approach is that there is no scientific controversy over evolution and creationism: the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly in favour of evolution.”
Referring to Sevenoaks, Copson continued, “It is plain from their comments that Sevenoaks Christian School are a creationist group who have identified that they can’t teach creationism in science, so they will teach it in RE instead. Teaching creationism in RE is no more acceptable than teaching it in science as pupils who are taught one thing in one subject and then the opposite in another are going to end up confused. The previous government made this very clear in their guidance on creationism and it is deeply concerning to see the present government watering that down.”
Examining the bids together, Copson concluded, “Michael Gove said that he was ‘crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact’. So it is startling to see two Free Schools that intend to teach creationism in RE and one that intends to teach creationism as a valid scientific theory. Either the scrutiny to which bids are being subjected is inadequate, or the government’s policy statements are untrue.”
The BHA has posted a facility through which British voters can write to their MPs or Michael Gove. More than 1,000 emails were sent on the first day alone: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/what-you-can-do-to-help/creationist-free-schools
In 2011, the BHA came together with 30 leading scientists and educators and four other organizations to launch ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ Read the statement from scientists including Sir David Attenborough, Professor Richard Dawkins and Professor Michael Reiss, and organizations including the BHA, the Association for Science Education, the British Science Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering and Ekklesia: http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/
View the BHA-backed Government e-petition on the same subject: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1617
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on countering creationism: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/countering-creationism