Thursday, 4 August 2011

Creationist Everyday Champions Church passes to interview stage for its proposed Free School

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Earlier this year, we reported on how a creationist ministry, the Everyday Champions Church, had applied to open an "Everyday Champions Academy" in Newark, Nottinghamshire under the government's flagship free schools programme. The church was up front about its plans with regards to teaching evolution, with one of its members, John Harris, who runs a "Creation Science" website, saying:
"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.”
The ECC's plans prompted education campaigners to put pressure on the government to make it clear that the teaching of creationism would not be acceptable in free schools, and in March schools minister Nick Gibb MP gave the following answer to a parliamentary question from Julian Huppert MP:
"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."
While in some respects this did not go far enough, as the implication was that creationism would need to be prevented as a result of Ofsted inspections, rather than blocked before the school was allowed to open, the government appeared clear in its opposition to the teaching of creationism, and it seemed unlikely that we would be seeing creationist schools opening as a result of the free schools policy.

All of which makes it surprising to hear that the Everyday Champions Academy proposal has progressed to the interview stage of the free schools application process, with the ECC due to meet with the Department for Education this week. In a statement on its website last week, the ECC proudly declared:
"We are delighted to inform you that the ECA proposal HAS PROGRESSED to the interview stage of the process. This will be held at the Department for Education in London next week.

Following the interview, our application will be considered further and the outcome of the assessment and any next steps will be communicated to us by the end of September.

Should our application be approved to the next stage of the assessment process, we will be allocated a named contact within the Department to support us through the pre-opening phase of developing our proposed Free School."
Considering the government's position on creationism, and the fact that the ECC has been upfront about where it stands on the teaching of evolution, there should be no possibility of the ECA opening as a free school, so it seems strange that the Department for Education would allow the application to proceed to the interview stage.

Of course, it is possible that the interview stage is the point at which the DfE is able to quiz the ECC about creationism and conclusively establish that it would make an unsuitable contributor to the state education sector but, if it turns out in September that the application has been allowed to proceed beyond this point, some serious questions will need to be asked of the government.
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