A few weeks ago I spoke to a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. Also speaking were anonymous whistleblowers from Park View school, the centre of the Trojan Horse affair, and an anonymous escapee from an unregistered Haredi Jewish school (he described it as ‘ultra-Orthodox’).
Following this, Lord Warner (who chaired the APPHG meeting) asked several Parliamentary questions to try to ascertain the Government’s position on all this. And the answer is that Government policy is borderline incoherent.
Before the Parliamentary questions, Lord Warner made a speech in the House of Lords in which he condemned ACE and Charedi schools. Here’s an excerpt. You can read the whole thing at Hansard (It’s at 12:59 pm, or search inside the page for ‘Warner’):
At a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, we heard from the original Trojan horse whistleblower at Park View School in Birmingham, from a former Haredi Jew who grew up and was educated in Stamford Hill in Hackney, and from a young man who attended an Accelerated Christian Education school and is now doing a PhD studying experiences of ACE schools. I have to tell your Lordships that “ace” is a bit misleading as a description of those schools. The parliamentarians at the meeting, from all political parties, were truly shocked to learn what was going on in some of our schools in 21st-century Britain in the name of religious beliefs, and by the apparent inability of our legal and regulatory systems to safeguard our children from what can only be described as indoctrination and abuse.
I will say a little about what we heard about the ACE and Haredi school experiences. There is a network of 30 to 40 private ACE schools in the UK. The curriculum is a fundamentalist Christian one that originated in the United States. It is widely considered to be creationist, homophobic and misogynistic. The teaching materials used in these schools that were presented to us certainly supported this view. Much of the material is in a comic strip format with characters that could only be described as risible if they were not being used to brainwash and indoctrinate young minds. It was very scary that the so-called science teaching was leading to certification that was being used to progress children to further education.
The insularity of children in the ACE schools was repeated by the descriptions of education in a Haredi Jewish school. Here was a young man who literally had to escape from his community at the age of 18, having had no education in this country apart from religious study and despite speaking no English, because his so-called education had been conducted in Yiddish. This young man, now in his 20s, is a smart, articulate campaigner trying to expose the fact that more than 2,000 boys from this sect are being educated today in illegal unregistered schools. He struggles to understand why we collectively seem unable to safeguard children from his experience.
Lord Warner later asked several questions, but here we’ll concentrate on just two:
Lord Warner to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they consider that a maintained school teaching young earth creationism or intelligent design as scientifically valid is breaching the requirement in section 78 of the Education Act 2002 for the school to teach a balanced and broadly based curriculum; and if not, what action can be taken in respect of the school. HL3031
Lord Warner to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether independent schools teaching creationism or similar views of science are downgraded in their Ofsted inspections as a result. HL3032
And the answers from Lord Nash. To the first:
The Government is clear that all state funded schools must teach science, as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, and that creationism has no place in any science curriculum.
Creationism does not accord with the scientific consensus or the very large body of established scientific evidence; nor does it accurately and consistently employ the scientific method. It should not therefore be presented to children as a scientific theory or body of knowledge.
There is scope for pupils to discuss beliefs about the origins of the Earth and living things, such as creationism, in Religious Education, as long as it is not presented as a valid alternative to established scientific theory and it does not undermine the teaching of the established scientific consensus around evolution.
If parents are concerned that the school is not offering a broad and balanced curriculum, they should follow the school’s complaints procedure.
To the second:
Independent schools are not downgraded in their Ofsted inspections purely as a result of teaching creationism. However, their curriculum and teaching must meet the independent school standards as a condition of registration. The independent school standards require schools to provide a curriculum which gives pupils experience in linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technological, human and social, physical and aesthetic and creative education. Subject matter must also be appropriate for the ages and aptitudes of pupils. Beyond this, independent schools have the freedom to choose what they include in the curriculum. Teaching creationism does not, of itself, conflict with the standards.
Independent schools are also required to meet standards in relation to the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils. These standards were revised in September this year. They now require schools to actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.
On what planet are these two responses compatible with each other?
We learn, first of all, that “creationism has no place on any science curriculum”, and then that in private schools “teaching creationism does not, of itself, conflict with the standards”. We see that “Creationism does not accord with the scientific consensus or the very large body of established scientific evidence; nor does it accurately and consistently employ the scientific method. It should not therefore be presented to children as a scientific theory or body of knowledge.” Yet a private school would not even be downgraded in an inspection for teaching it as “a scientific theory or body of knowledge”.
Either it is detrimental to children’s education to be taught creationism, or it is not. If it is, it makes no difference who is paying for it; children’s right to an education ought to be protected. If creationism is not detrimental, then it ought to be allowed freely in all schools. Make your minds up, Department for Education.