22 Mar 2011

UK government insists it will not accept free school proposals from groups pushing creationist agenda over science

The Guardian - UK March 21, 2011

Free schools will not teach creationism, says Department for Education

Government spokesman says the education secretary is 'crystal clear' that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact

by Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent

The Department for Education has said Michael Gove is "crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact" after a warning that the government's new free schools could be exploited by fundamentalist churches looking to promote a literal interpretation of the Bible.

The remarks follow a letter to the education secretary from the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) suggesting that creationists planned to use government legislation on free schools to mount a "concerted attack" on science education.

Free schools can be set up by charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, teachers and groups of parents. They will have more freedom over the contents of their curriculum, leading to fears that science teaching in the schools may not be as rigorous. Teachers working at free schools will also not need to have formal teaching qualifications.

The BCSE, which describes itself as the leading anti-creationist organisation in Europe, wrote to Gove to express its "extreme concern" at applications from groups such as the Everyday Champions Church and the Christian Schools Trust to run free schools.

The trust has already had one proposal accepted. A primary school in Hampstead "with a distinctive Christian ethos that permeates every aspect of school life" will open in September. The BCSE says the trust has four applications outstanding.

The Everyday Champions Church, in Newark, Nottinghamshire, submitted its proposal for a 652-place school in January, shortly before the DfE held its first free school conference where Gove said he would consider applications from creationist groups on a case-by-case basis.

On its website the church says it has "660 children 'definitely' signed up to the school and 185 considering". It spent January and February carrying out public presentations and found parental response "overwhelmingly positive".

"Creationism will be embodied as a belief at Everyday Champions Academy, but will not be taught in the sciences," said its leader Gareth Morgan. "Similarly, evolution will be taught as a theory. We believe children should have a broad knowledge of all theories in order that they can make informed choice."

The DfE spokesman said groups setting up new free schools in the UK will be vetted to ensure that they have "strong education aims" and "high curriculum standards". He said: "The education secretary is crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact. Ministers have said they will not accept any proposal where there are concerns about the people behind the project."

In the letter from the BCSE, Professor Paul Braterman wrote that the embodiment of creationism "as a belief" could only mean that science was "subordinate to religious considerations, and that the central concepts of the natural sciences, as developed over the past 350 years, must be rejected as doctrinally unsound."

In an accompanying report, the BCSE recommended the DfE "carefully vet" free school applications and "be very wary" of approving applications from creationist groups.

Last July, Gove acknowledged there were concerns about "inappropriate faith groups using this legislation to push their own agenda." The education secretary, who was addressing MPs on the cross-party Commons education committee, said his department was working on the regulations to ensure there were no "extremist groups taking over schools".

Braterman claimed that teaching in schools run by such groups in Sweden forced a revision of the original "friskolor" legislation there, making free schools subject to the same regulations that ensure teaching is objective as traditional schools.

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Secular News Daily - March 22, 2011

Further pressure on government to commit to teaching of evolution in academy schools

by British Humanist Association

Further pressure has been put on the government to explain how it will prevent religious, state-maintained 'free schools' from teaching creationism outside of the religious education curriculum, and if it will require such schools to teach evolution in science. BHA distinguished supporter and vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, Dr Julian Huppert MP, asked a formal parliamentary question of the Secretary of State for Education to comment on his policy on these points. Responding, Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP stated:

'Academies and free schools will benefit from having freedom over the curriculum they deliver. However, we have been clear that creationism should not form part of any science curriculum or be taught as a scientific alternative to accepted scientific theories. We expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum. Under the Government's planned reforms to school inspection, there will be stronger focus on teaching. Teachers will be expected to demonstrate that their subject knowledge is secure. If creationism is being taught as a scientific fact in science or any other areas of the curriculum outside denominational RE and collective worship, this would be noted in the Ofsted report.'

Commenting on the government’s response, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘Through its Academies and Free Schools, the government has embarked on a programme which will entrench religious privilege in our education system, providing ever more scope for inequality and the dissemination of religious doctrine in a state-funded service. It is easy to see the appeal of Academies to certain religious groups, not only because they have freedom to discriminate in employment and admissions but because of the considerable latitude they have over the syllabus taught, which would in practice permit schools to promote religious dogma in place of objective teaching on issues such as creationism.

‘Despite the government’s statement in favour of evolution, there is no requirement even for community schools which follow the National Curriculum to teach evolution in science at primary level. It is difficult to see how the government will ensure that the potentially thousands of existing and new schools, lifted out of the National Curriculum altogether through its Academies programme, will teach what is probably the most important idea underlying biological science. This, combined with the threat of groups running schools who willingly purport anti-scientific theories which are not supported by evidence as fact, creates a new threat to the teaching of evolution and school science more generally.’

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  1. Another creationist Free School proposed for 2013

    by British Humanist Association November 15, 2011

    A creationist Free School, Sheffield Christian Free School, has been proposed to open in 2013, and last week held a public meeting to gauge parent support. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which recently worked with other groups to launch a new campaign website, ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’, has expressed concern at the continuing confidence of creationist groups in applying to open Free Schools, and disappointment that the Department for Education (DfE) hasn’t taken firmer steps to discourage such applications.

    Sheffield Christian Free School will be run by Christian Family Schools Limited, who already run two private schools in Sheffield, including Bethany School. Both are members of the Christian Schools’ Trust, a network of over 40 private schools founded by creationist Sylvia Baker, author of Bone of Contention, who was the guest speaker at the public meeting. Sheffield Christian Free School’s curriculum policy will be ‘broadly based on nine themes found in the early chapters of the book of Genesis.’ Bethany School’s science curriculum is all about God’s role in creation, and creation appears throughout the school’s curriculum grid. In explaining the appeal of Christian Schools, the Free School’s website cites as a positive that just 7% of pupils agree with the statement, ‘I believe in evolution creating all things over millions of years.’

    BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We welcomed last month’s rejection of Everyday Champions Church’s Free School bid because of their intention to teach creationism. We are concerned that, even following this, creationist groups continue to see Free Schools as a viable route.

    ‘Following on from the launch of the ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ website, which we coordinated, we wrote to the DfE further outlining our concerns. Despite the weight of support from scientists and educators behind our position, in their reply the Government refused to make their guidance on the teaching of creationism statutory and enforceable. We again urge the Government to put this issue to bed once and for all by making this simple change.’


  2. Richard Dawkins celebrates a victory over creationists

    Free schools that teach 'intelligent design' as science will lose funding

    by Jamie Doward, The Observer January 15, 2012

    Leading scientists and naturalists, including Professor Richard Dawkins and Sir David Attenborough, are claiming a victory over the creationist movement after the government ratified measures that will bar anti-evolution groups from teaching creationism in science classes.

    The Department for Education has revised its model funding agreement, allowing the education secretary to withdraw cash from schools that fail to meet strict criteria relating to what they teach. Under the new agreement, funding will be withdrawn for any free school that teaches what it claims are "evidence-based views or theories" that run "contrary to established scientific and/or historical evidence and explanations".

    The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has led a campaign against creationism – the movement that denies Darwinian evolution and claims that the Earth and all its life was created by God – described the move as "highly significant" and predicted that it would have implications for other faith groups looking to run schools.

    Dawkins, who was one of the leading lights in the campaign, welcomed confirmation that creationists would not receive funding to run free schools if they sought to portray their views as science. "I welcome all moves to ensure that creationism is not taught as fact in schools," he said. "Government rules on this are extremely welcome, but they need to be properly enforced."

    Free schools, which are state-funded and run by local people or organisations, do not need to follow the national curriculum. Scientific groups have expressed concerns that their spread will see a reduction in the teaching of evolution in the classroom.

    Several creationist groups have expressed an interest in opening schools in towns and cities across England, including Bedford, Barnsley, Sheffield and Nottingham. Critics say they seek to promote creationism, or the doctrine of "intelligent design", as a scientific theory rather than as a myth or metaphor.

    One creationist organisation, Truth in Science, which encourages teachers to incorporate intelligent design into their science teaching, has sent free resources to all secondary schools and sixth-form colleges.

    A BHA campaign, called "Teach evolution, not creationism", saw 30 leading scientists and educators call on the government to introduce statutory guidance against the teaching of creationism. The group said if the government would not support the call, an explicit amendment to the wording of the funding agreement could have the same effect. Last week the Department for Education confirmed it had amended the agreement, although a spokesman denied it was the result of pressure from scientists. He said the revision made good on a pledge regarding the teaching of creationism given when the education secretary, Michael Gove, was in opposition. "We will not accept any academy or free school proposal which plans to teach creationism in the science curriculum or as an alternative to accepted scientific theories," the spokesman said, adding that "all free school proposals will be subject to due diligence checks by the department's specialist team".

    The revised funding agreement has been seized upon by anti-creationists who are pressing for wider concessions from the government.

    "It is clear that some faith schools are ignoring the regulations and are continuing to teach myth as though it were science," Dawkins said. "Evolution is fact, supported by evidence from a host of scientific disciplines, and we do a great disservice to our young people if we fail to teach it properly. " [...]

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