Creationist groups banished from free schools

20th May 2011 at 01:00
Bids by fundamentalist religious groups given cold shoulder

Free school bids from groups advocating creationism and intelligent design as scientific theories will not be approved, according to the first government guidance on the issue.

The move follows repeated concerns that fundamentalist religious organisations would establish free schools to promote the controversial ideas as an alternative to evolution.

As reported in The TES, the Everyday Champions Church in Newark submitted plans to the Department for Education to open a secondary school with creationism as part of its science curriculum.

But in guidelines published this week, the Government has ruled out such groups being able to set-up free schools. "Creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas must not be taught as valid scientific theories," according to the criteria to assess the suitability of applications.

The publication comes just a week after ministers were lobbied by a new campaign group, CriSIS (Creationism In Schools Isn't Science). The organisation sent a letter - whose signatories included professors of science and theology and practising members of the clergy - to education secretary Michael Gove calling for a ban on creationism being taught as science in lessons and extra-curricular activities.

"We demand that creationism should not be presented as a valid scientific position, nor creationist websites and resources be promoted in publicly funded schools or in any youth activities run on publicly funded school premises," it said.

CriSIS was established by Laura Horner, a practising Christian, after a creationist was invited to speak at her son's school, St Peter's Church of England School in Exeter, as part of an RE revision session.

Mrs Horner claims that the speaker, Philip Bell, from Creation Ministries International, was allowed to present his views as a scientific theory. Creationism should be taught in RE as a religious point of view, but by teachers rather than guest speakers, she said.

"The guidance is wonderful news and shows the Government taking a step in the right direction," said Mrs Horner. "We now expect the ban to be extended to apply to any activity taking place in school."

Keith Porteous Wood, director of the National Secular Society, which is also part of the CriSIS group, said: "It is a perversion to suggest that creationism is part of science. We are pleased that the Government has acted to tackle this extremism."

Mr Bell, a former scientist, denied that he had attempted to present his creationist views as scientific fact.

"The presentation was about my opinions," he said. "That's the point of RE. Many people probably think that what I said was wacky or wrong, but it is right that pupils can listen to the idea."

Mark Perry, head of St Peter's, said Mr Bell was one of a number of speakers with different views who had spoken to the Year 11 pupils.

"Having him speak was good RE teaching from my point of view. Creationism is on the RE GCSE syllabus," said Mr Perry.

"I disagree with the idea that students can't understand it and think it through for themselves."

A Department for Education spokesman said Mr Gove had been "crystal clear" that teaching creationism as scientific fact was "wrong".

"He will not accept any academy or free school proposal which plans to teach creationism in the science curriculum or as an alternative to accepted scientific theories," the spokesman said.

"It's not unusual for creationism to be discussed in religious education classes alongside other beliefs - but we've been given no evidence that any academy has ever taught creationism as science."

DEADLINE: REMIT WIDENS BUT TIME IS SHORT

Parents, teachers and other groups will have just two weeks to get their application forms sent in time to open a free school by September 2012.

The Department for Education announced on Monday that the window for applications was open and that for the first time it will consider free schools for 16 to 19-year-olds, for children with special educational needs and for pupil referral units.

Groups applying this year will be the first to submit their plans under the new guidelines, which call for far more detailed proposals than the original applications.

Original headline: Gove banishes creationist groups from free

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