UK Taxpayers May Be Funding Creationist Schools

Being a newly minted resident of the United Kingdom, I’ve learned that much can surprise you in this gloriously beautiful country with utterly filthy weather. One thing that might catch an American atheist off-guard is how the UK, a country far more secular than the US, maintains official ties with religion that are unthinkable in a country with the First Amendment.

One of these ties is the existence of state-funded faith schools. Historically these were Christian schools that agreed to teach a general state-mandated curriculum in exchange for being funded by the government. In the mid 90s, the Labour government expanded the religions that were allowed under this system. Today, though the vast majority of faith schools are either Church of England or Catholic, there are also Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu schools — all funded by tax-payers.

So what kinds of perks come with being a faith school? Though specific rules can vary by region, generally speaking:

    • The school is allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion when selecting a hefty proportion of the students.

 

    • The governing church/temple/mosque/etc. will often have the ability to choose, and dismiss, employees on the basis of religious doctrine.

 

  • The school is allowed to maintain a certain religious ethos, including mandatory worship and sectarian religious education.

Girls enjoying the joys of tax-payer funded religious education. (Via the Manchester Islamic High School for Girls)

All of these things are bad, and that is only compounded by the fact that they are funded by taxpayers. Sadly, because the UK lacks a strong separation of church and state, they are perfectly legal. However the state has put its foot down when it comes to faith schools teaching Creationism.

At least until now.

Three schools have won approval to switch over from being religious private schools to state-funded “free schools” while expressing Creationist views on the origin of the universe.

One of the schools, Sevenoaks Christian School, says that while it won’t teach creationism as an alternative to evolution, it will teach children aged 11 to 18 that “God made the world and loves what he has made” in religious education class.

More worrying still is Grindon Hall School, which had a “Creation Policy” (DOC). It states:

We will affirm the fact that “God created the world and everything in it”.  We will affirm that he did so “ex nihilo” — out of nothing.

After that very poor start they are quick to assure that they do not share the “rigid Creationist’s insistence” on literalistic interpretations of the Bible and make some soothing sounds about getting along with evolution. Then things go downhill fast:

However, we vigorously challenge the unscientific certainty often claimed by scientists surrounding the so-called “Big Bang” and origins generally.

We believe that no scientific theory provides — or ever will provide — a satisfactory explanation of origins, i.e. why the world appeared, and how nothing became something in the first place.

We will teach evolution as an established scientific principle, as far as it goes.

We will teach creation as a scientific theory and we will always affirm very clearly our position as Christians, i.e. that Christians believe that God’s creation of the world is not just a theory but a fact with eternal consequences for our planet and for every person who has ever lived on it.

This document has since been removed from the school’s website after it’s existence was denounced by the British Humanist Association.

The headmaster of the school now claims this is an “obsolete” document and that science class would be kept free of Creationism, a subject that would be reserved for assembly (collective worship), adding:

“If children question for themselves their origins, that’s what we want them to do — to ask sensible, responsible questions. Am I here by accident, or — dare I use the word — design?

Are you reassured? Yeah, neither am I.

In the end, these are the dangers you confront when you allow state money to go towards segregated sectarian education. Though there are many schools where the religious aspect will be merely decorative and the curriculum utterly indistinguishable from a fully secular school, there will always be those so devout that they are unable to separate their religious beliefs from their legal obligations. Paying such people to educate children and expecting them to keep their beliefs separate from their jobs is like giving a match and wood to a pyromaniac and asking him to build furniture. Sooner or later, something is going to be wrecked.

(Thanks to Mike for the link)

About Claudia

I'm a lifelong atheist and a molecular biologist with a passion for science and a passionate opposition to its enemies.

  • Glasofruix

    “why the world appeared, and how nothing became something in the first place.”

    Classic and idiotic. Why should be there a reason in the first place? And that “something from nothing” excuse shows how stupid those people are.

  • kaydenpat

    Coming from Canada where taxes go towards Catholic schools, this isn’t that shocking.  I would think that as more UK residents find out about it, they’ll force the government to reverse this decision.

  • sam

    They challenge the unscientific certainty of the big-bang yet chose to teach about a much more less believable book, without questioning its own reliability at all. 

    It is sad and very annoying to see such behaviour especially since the tax payer is paying for this type of education. 

  • JoeAllen

    Be careful not to confuse a school with a faith-based ethos with fundamentalist creationists. I am a non-christian working in a high-profile faith school which Dawkins has criticised frequently (baseless accusations of Creationism being taught in the classroom). I can assure that not only is Neo-Darwinian evolution in the curriculum, epigenetics and all modern refinements are taught. To make the instant assumption that faith-based schools are Creationist is misleading and irresponsible journalism. 

    • http://twitter.com/TreeroyWoW Treeroy

      The last paragraph clearly says that “many” faith schools have a “indistinguishable” curriculum. However, this is slightly besides the point. The fact remains that there are going to be some new schools which teach creationism as fact/science. That is just ridiculous – particularly when you consider it’s paid for by tax. I for one am very much against all faith schools because they are segregative, and because religion is effectively forced upon the children. Children should not be brought up like this in school, because it has such a huge effect on them for the rest of their lives – they should be allowed to think for themselves. In addition, it effectively labels a child as being from X religion, when they have not had the chance to think about alternatives to God and, really, they don’t know. 
      In any case, I do hope these government fundings get overturned as they are downright wrong.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

       Firstly Joe I am afraid I am going to call BULLSH*T on you for the “baseless accusations” accusation. You are familiar I take it with the legal principles of slander and libel. If what Prof D said is so egregious and untrue why has your school done nothing to legally protect itself against further libels by taking him to court or obtaining injunctions? Ah…. let me guess. Dont have a leg to stand on perhaps?

      Secondly have the courage of your convictions….which school would this be then? Let your audience decide. We are all smart cookies here and can do our own research and decision making. Is it, perchance, one of the ones in his documentary work shown on TV? Are there reports, perchance, other than Prof D’s out there on the interwebby?

      As his work shows, stealth creationism is an insidious tactic in some UK faith schools, more apparent in some than others. The sort of sly nod nod wink wink shell game between science and RE classes that is discussed in this article goes on, and that fact has been well established.

      And my main reason for doubting the words you type. “Neo-Darwinian evolution” is a dog whistle if I ever heard one.  Eugenie Scott has more than comprehensively shown that in her research into stealth creationist creep.

  • amycas

    I don’t like the idea of so many children being segregated by religious affiliation for most of their childhood. It seems like an environment like that might inherently create extra divisiveness in the culture between the different religious groups. 

  • http://twitter.com/KingsleyAimless Kingsley Aimless

    There are historical reasons why Faith Schools are so prominent in the UK. Namely that the Church of England, the Scottish Kirk and Roman Catholics started providing free education to poor children much earlier than the state did. Thus when the state started providing universal education it was cheaper and easier to fund such schools where they already existed than build and staff new schools.

    Of course the provision of basic education in the 19th cetuary does’t justify continued state funding for such schools in the 21st! One only has to look at the ongoing sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland to see how damaging and divisive dividing kids along religious lines from an early age is.

    I’m glad your article mentions the BHA, who oppose all state funding for faith schools, but it should be noted there is also the National Secular Society and the Accord Coalition (which includes many religious groups and is headed by a Rabbi) who are also campaigning to end this once valuable but now hideous anachronism.

    Secularism is under threat at the political level in the UK like never before and has been since 1997. But the UK is becoming a more secular country at grass roots level than it has ever been. At some point in the not too distant future the balance will tip. It can’t come soon enough for my peace of mind.

  • brianmacker
  • Scott

    The situation is very similar in Canada, especially Alberta. Publicly-funded religious schools in Alberta teach creationism, and evolution is taught only in an optional grade 11 biology course, and then only superficially with no mention of human evolution.
    http://www.ffwdweekly.com/article/news-views/viewpoint/educational-choice-discriminates-9065/

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.co.uk/ Steve Bowen

    I recently wrote to Michael Gove about a creatist organisation that has been approved to open a “free school”. Herebis part of his reply

    No Free School is allowed to teach creationism. The Free School application guidance published by the Department now specifically says creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas cannot be taught as valid scientific theories. 

    Furthermore, the funding agreements for all Free Schools state that divine creation should not be taught as an ‘evidence-based view or theory’ (a scientific theory) in any lesson: so if a school did do this they would be putting their funding at risk. We are confident that the Free School project you mention will follow the rules, having explored these questions robustly with them at interview.

    The problem I have with this is that although they may give a nod and a wink toards the actual science to fool Ofsted, the ethos will still point the kids to creationism.

  • Tim

    Welcome to the UK Claudia.  Sorry about our shit weather and our faithschools.   Hope you are enjoying the Olympics.   

  • http://therecoveringcatholic.wordpress.com/ Georgina

    As a UK person myself, I disagree completely with the liberties and dominance that faith schools wield in their communities.

    I find the differences in approaches to faith between the UK and the US absolutely ridiculous. On one hand, the US is supposed to be the secular one but is crazy about religion while the UK is perceived as secular but has a state religion! However, and this is a big sticking point for me, I think the US is better off. Seriously. The US has a constitution that actually spells out how religion should not be involved in politics etc. Sure, it is a bit of a hassle trying to enforce that but at least it is there, in black and white. The UK doesn’t have any of that, so any time someone kicks off in a religious way, they will often get a free ride because the law is on their side.  I have only really begun to appreciate this silent threat with the increase in faith schools, the anti-gay marriage lobby and women in the Church of England. It sucks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

    I utterly despise  the shameful fact that the UK still has this anachronistic link between state education and faith schools, no matter what particular brand of woo woo they espouse. As in our politics, the state education system should be run on a secular basis where “We don’t do God”.

     This crapola parade got worse under that stealth god botherer Blair and now the Tory party are in faith creep into secular society is just getting worse.  Its a shambles now with all these different types of “academies” and all the rest of the twaddle. Secularise or stop their funding say I.

    And I say that as a lad who attended a Catholic school run by Salesians. Made me the militant secularist I am today ;-)

  • Paul

    I too am a devout atheist and as much as I want to denounce the practice of taxpayers money funding what I perceive to be nonsensical theories, I hold out hope that scientific discoveries and constant questioning of our beliefs will prevail and educate parents NOT to send their children to these schools. There is no such thing as right or wrong – there is only human PERCEPTION of what is right or wrong.

  • Michael Corry

    The English dictionary actually has the word “antidisestablishmentarianism”.  Moves to disestablish the Church of England (other faiths or denominations are not established) has been around for a very long time and there have also been antidisestablishment movements to counter it.
    Faith schools follow the National Curriculum and children will fail SATs, GCSEs and Alevels if they are taught creationism as science or if they put “the controversy” in their arguments.  Since we don’t yet have the equivalent of Liberty University or Bob Jones they will not get a university science education.
    Obviously this does not stop students from getting into arts based studies.
    Free Schools are a new thing invented by Cameron’s government under the banner of localism and freedom of choice.  They can teach any acceptable curriculum and as long as creation “science” is disguised as religious education it will be smuggled into the curriculum but the students will fail all the nationally recognised tests and qualifications.
    If you want a US equivalent think of as being like the voucher system touted by some right wingers in your country.
    When we start getting christian universities we shall have to worry.
    But if we abolish the House of Lords with unelected Bench of Bishops we may make some progress toward disestablishment – but then we might end up getting more religious not less.  We have a certain religious apathy in the UK because many regard the C of E as the face of religion and see it as a joke. Take that away and all the christian and non christian cults will start to look legitimate. Then we’ll end up like the US.

  • Jonpsaila

    Thank you for the link. I cannot tell you how much the state subsidising of faith schools angers me. As Hitch said, if god made man why are there so many religions? It is more a case of ‘man made god’ and it is so glaringly obvious!

    So obvious that it should be embarrassing being a member of a faith.


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