"Scores" of conservative Christian groups are increasingly using schools as a “platform to evangelise” to young people, promoting creationism, miracle healing and other "dubious" ideas, a report says.
The document, from the National Secular Society, warnsthere is a “significant and growing incursion” of evangelical organisations into state schools, especially primaries, with groups offering religiously-themed assemblies, workshops, after school clubs and even setting up prayer rooms.
Parents, it says, are often not informed about their work and are often given little chance to withdraw their children from them, the report says.
One mother said a man had been invited into the school to talk about the merits of celibacy before marriage. He claimed there would be no paedophiles if there was more celibacy, she said.
Another said his young daughter had understood a talk about Adam and Eve "as fact".
One parent quoted said that his attempts to challenge his child’s school’s relationship with a local conservative evangelical group had been met with “profound reluctance to engage with the issue”.
But Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, has hit out at the report's claims, saying it is "no more than the latest desperate and ultimately doomed attempt by dogmatic secularists to remove faith from public life".
He added that schools worked with Christian groups because they are "valued and trusted" and because they "contributed to the overall wellbeing of students".
The report lists 18 different evangelical groups involved in school work, including 24/7 Prayer International, which sets up prayer spaces in schools under its Prayer Spaces in Schools initiative.
24/7’s "2020 vision" document says its aim is to “establish a national project working with teachers to serve the national curriculum so that hundreds of thousands of students can swap talking about God in Religious Studies classes to talking to Him”.
The National Secular Society claims the motivations of external groups are going unquestioned by head teachers, governors, local authorities and government ministers.
The report - Evangelism in State Schools - also claims that the long-standing obligation for schools to provide RE and a daily act of broadly Christian worship provided “a foot in the door” to organisations with evangelistic intentions.
The ambiguity about the specific aims and purpose of religious education in schools, the report said, provided an ideal environment for evangelical groups to exploit.
The National Secular Society this week wrote to education secretary Michael Gove about the issue, calling for his department to issue national guidance for working with external visitors, in particular for religious groups.
It should also make clear that schools should only consider visitors from belief groups when a “specifically identified need within the syllabus” has been identified.