Dawkins on Accelerated Christian Education (again) and Ofsted Reports

Dawkins on Accelerated Christian Education (again) and Ofsted Reports September 3, 2012

In his diary for the New Statesman in 2006, Richard Dawkins shared this on Accelerated Christian Education:

“One of my TV locations was a London school that follows the (American) Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) syllabus. The day after watching my show, three colleagues told me they had interviewed, for a place at university, a young woman who had been taught (not at the same school) using ACE. She turned out to be the worst candidate they had ever encountered. She had no idea that thinking was even an option: her job was either to know or guess the “right” answer. Worse, she had no clue how bad she was, having always scored at least 95 per cent in exams – the National Christian Schools Certificate (NCSC). Should my colleagues write to Ofsted about ACE and NCSC? Unfortunately, Ofsted is the organisation that gave a rave review to Tony Blair’s pet city academy in Gateshead: a Christian school whose head of science thinks the entire universe began after the domestication of the dog.”

I realise I am perhaps guilty of confirmation bias here, but that’s exactly what I’d expect to happen to most former ACE students in an Oxbridge interview. The important part is this: She had no idea that thinking was even an option. That’s exactly how ACE teaches. If you come out of an ACE school showing some independent thinking ability, the curriculum cannot be given the credit. Either you’re extraordinarily independent-minded, or you’ve been lucky enough to learn it from somewhere else.

But Dawkins raises an important point: What the hell is Ofsted doing when it gives approving reports to ACE schools?

Admittedly it hasn’t always done this. Oxford professor Geoffrey Walford has described on several occasions (e.g. Educational Politics: Pressure Groups and Faith-Based Schoolsp. 21) how ACE was initially controversial, noting that ACE “suffered badly in the press following poor reports from HM Inspectors during 1985 when at least four new Christian schools were served with notices of complaint. Areas of concern within these reports included… inadequate curriculum. In all these four reports, however, the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) teaching programme used by the schools was a common area of concern.”

Since those days of common sense from Ofsted, things seem to have worsened. Victory, my old ACE school, used to get glowing reports (although none of them are accessible in the online database because the school closed in 2000, and the archive doesn’t go back that far). I am now incensed. I mean, this was a school that found a way to keep spanking children after it was officially outlawed.

There are more recent positive reports for UK ACE schools including Maranatha and Locksley.

The Inspectors are usually only mildly critical of the ACE programme itself. From Carmel Christian School’s 2010 report:

“The school follows the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) programme, which ensures that pupils are able to follow individualised materials as part of the Packages of Accelerated Christian Education (PACES). These materials provide a satisfactory platform on which individual pupils can learn to make progress at their own speed. However, the curriculum is very narrow, and although pupils do have opportunities to experience different subjects and activities, these are not well planned over time.”

A satisfactory platform? John Seal HMI and I have very different ideas about the definition of “satisfactory.”

The generally glowing report on Locksley Christian School (it actually says the school provides a “good curriculum”) also has only brief criticism of ACE, alongside a glowing endorsement of the Biblical basis:

“In line with the school’s aims, there is a pronounced emphasis on Biblical themes and the development of spiritual awareness. This makes an important contribution to the personal and moral development of the students. Students develop appropriate skills in managing their time, setting personal goals and assessing their own progress. Higher level cognitive skills, such as analysis, evaluation and reasoned argument, do not feature sufficiently in many of the ACE workbooks to provide sufficient challenge, particularly for the higher achieving students.”

It seems that curriculum evaluation is outside of the remit for Ofsted; Maranatha’s report only considers how well the school delivers the curriculum, without real comment on the suitability or otherwise of the materials:

“Teaching and assessment are good. Pupils work very hard and are guided and supported well to complete their Packets of Accelerated Christian Education (PACEs). There is detailed, ongoing assessment of pupils’ progress. All pupils are fully engaged and understand the system. They apply themselves very well to their work, setting themselves challenging personal goals, organising their morning and marking and correcting their work. Supervisors (teachers) have sufficient subject knowledge to teach the ACE curriculum and support its assessment.”

Meanwhile, Mark Lindfield HMI is entirely positive about ACE in his report on Emmanuel School, Exeter:

“The curriculum is satisfactory, including the provision made in the Early Years Foundation Stage. In the mornings, the ACE curriculum helps pupils to make good progress because it is well structured and taught. It is used well by the school to meet the varied needs of all pupils, including the youngest children, to help them acquire sound mathematical and English skills. The ACE curriculum suitably covers mathematics, English, word building (vocabulary and spelling), social studies and science and the majority of individuals learn at a good rate during these morning sessions. The Christian nature of the school, the ACE provision and the good role models provided by adults create a good framework for personal, social and health education so that pupils develop a strong spiritual understanding and good social and emotional skills.”

Reading this, I feel the same sense of brutal injustice that tabloid columnists seem to feel every second of every day.

If you’re new to this blog, you’re probably thinking, “Well, Ofsted inspectors are experts. If they think it’s good, they’re probably right.”

Which would be true, if I didn’t have piles of evidence of ACE teaching things which are demonstrably false – just for starters, here, here, and here. And furthermore, evidence from educational experts that the curriculum is unsatisfactory – eg here and here.

Ofsted are failing the children in these schools. These inspectors alone seem to have the power to make a difference, and they are letting these children be taught lies and given a bad education, and signing off on it.

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