A controversial plan to send a copy of the King James Bible to every school in the country will become a reality "within months", ministers have said, quashing claims that the proposal had run into trouble.
TES exclusively revealed in November that Education Secretary Michael Gove had been in talks with Number 10 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible by sending one to every primary and secondary in England. The original plans included the possibility of Mr Gove writing a foreword, but the idea was quickly dropped.
Prime Minister David Cameron is a supporter of the scheme, but following public outcry in response to the proposal, he told Mr Gove to secure private funding.
According to officials within the Department for Education, discussions with private sponsors are progressing and, in a response to a parliamentary question last week, schools minister Nick Gibb said he expected the project to be up and running imminently.
"We hope that this exercise will inspire teachers to teach about the impact of the King James Bible, although there is no requirement on them to do so," Mr Gibb said. "We are not prescribing that every child must read the King James Bible, nor are we prescribing its role in the curriculum."
The minister added that "printing will commence in the next few months".
In a Commons education select committee hearing last month, Mr Gove told a panel of MPs that he had decided not to include his own words in the edition. "The authors of the King James Bible were a committee of learned divines," he said. "I am neither learned nor divine and, therefore, I have decided that there should not be any words in the King James Bible other than those that the original authors penned."
However, the proposal has been consistently criticised by non-religious charities, with the National Secular Society (NSS) calling on the government to provide books that are in much shorter supply than the Bible.
"It is a relief that the government is now looking for a private sponsor for this project, although why they think it is their duty to promote one particular religion in this way, I'm not sure," said Terry Sanderson, president of the NSS. "Schools in this country are under constant pressure from religious organisations, which are bombarding schools with bibles. Why does the government feel the need to add to this blitz?"