New head adds fuel to evolution's fire

Christian school controversially appoints principal who questions Darwin's theory. Joe Clancy reports.

THE Vardy Foundation has appointed a head who questions the theory of evolution to run a new city academy.

Former religious studies teacher Richard Coupe has been named principal of The Kings Academy, due to open in south Middlesbrough next year.

His appointment is set to re-ignite a debate over fundamentalist Christian teaching in Vardy Foundation schools. Mr Coupe told The TES: "Evolution has to be taught. In many respects it is a very good theory, but it has serious weaknesses."

Leading scientists earlier this year protested to Education Secretary Estelle Morris and to the Office for Standards in Education after similar views were expressed by senior staff at another Vardy Foundation school, Emmanuel College in Gateshead.

Emmanuel teachers had posted views on creationism - the belief that the world was created by God in six days - on a fundamentalist Christian website.

Asked about his views on creationism, Mr Coupe said: "I think there are several ways to look at the world and one of them is to look at the world as having been created by God, and that has its own consequences.

"Tying that down to how the process is supposed to have happened is the job of science. And good science is open to debate. I believe in good science and good theology."

In March, leading scientists expressed fears that pupils leave Emmanuel with a distorted view of science which will have to be corrected at university. Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Tonge asked the Prime Minister if he was happy for creationism to be taught in state schools. Tony Blair replied that the college was getting good results and he welcomed "diversity in education".

The panel which appointed Mr Coupe to The Kings Academy was led by John Burn, chief education officer for the Vardy Foundation, which has pledged up to pound;2 million towards the school. He once wrote an article urging fundamentalist Christians to use their influence to ensure the appointment of teachers who share their minority views on creationism.

Mr Coupe, asked if he will be appointing staff on the basis of their views on evolution, replied: "Certainly not. Nobody is going to teach anything they they don't want to teach or to believe anything they don't want to believe."

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