Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Government: creationism can not be taught in free schools

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Nottinghamshire's Everyday Champions Church, which has applied
to open a free school
The Department for Education have moved to dispel concerns that academies established under the new free schools legislation will be able to teach creationism as science, after we revealed in the current issue of New Humanist that a Nottinghamshire Pentescostal Church, Everyday Champions, had applied to set up a free school with the intention of teaching evolution "only alongside the Biblical creation account".

The New Humanist article, by James Gray, prompted the British Centre for Science Education, which campaigns against the incursion of creationism and Intelligent Design into science lessons, to write to the education secretary, Michael Gove, seeking assurance that creationist groups will not be allowed to exploit the reforms to the schools system. Citing Gove's previous suggestion that he would not allow “inappropriate faith groups using this legislation to push their own agenda”, the BCSE highlighted their concerns about the application by the Everday Champions Church:
"The ECC proposal is already a cause célèbre among creationist churches, and others are preparing to follow where ECC is leading. ... This is part of a concerted attack on science education by committed believers in biblical inerrancy and literalism. We cannot believe that it is your intention to advance their clearly articulated agenda, but if you allow such people to establish their own schools, using public money, it will be the unavoidable consequence of your policies."
In a statement yesterday, a spokesman for the DfE stressed that free schools would have to meet "high curriculum standards", saying:
"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." 
While it is not known whether the ECC application will be rejected (the DfE won't comment on individual cases), the DfE statement seems to indicate that the church will struggle to meet the required standards. Quoted in the James Gray's New Humanist piece, John Harris, an ECC member who also runs a "creation science" website, appears to make it clear that the proposed school would not teach science to the standards expected of existing state-funded schools:
“We have no intention of not teaching evolution in the school, but my recommendation would be to not teach it as fact or science. Evolution should not be taught in science lessons – it’s a theory and as religious as any other theory. If you’re going into a classroom and saying, ‘We come from monkeys’ but without any evidence, don’t call it science.”
Even if the ECC application is rejected, the DfE and the New Schools Network, which advises potential free school founders, will need to remain vigilant. Another group troubling science campaigners is the Christian Schools Trust, which represents around 50 private Christian schools, some of which are known to teach creationism. The CST is considering involvement in the free school system, and its national team leader, Graham Coyle, has said that "if CST schools that have a creationist outlook want to become free schools, that’s a challenge for them to take up."
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