Gove banishes creationist groups from free schools

27th May 2011 at 01:00
Bids submitted 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 Westminister Government guidance on the issue.

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

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

But in guidelines published last week, the Westminster 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," state the criteria to assess the suitability of applications.

A new campaign group, CriSIS (Creationism In Schools Isn't Science) recently 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.

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."

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.

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.

david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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