Inspectors fault Brethren school

26th August 2005 at 01:00
Inspectors have taken a tough stance on a new evangelical Christian sect school in Wales where computers, TV and sex education are banned.

Estyn says the Exclusive Brethren school in Swansea does not promote understanding and respect for other cultures in line with Welsh registration rules. The private faith school also falls short because it does not provide pupils with adequate careers guidance, or personal and social education.

However, inspectors were impressed with pupil behaviour and excellent educational standards, especially in maths. In England, where registration requirements for independent schools are similar, the Office for Standards in Education has approved all 38 schools run by the Exclusive Brethren. Two Brethren schools in Scotland have been provisionally registered.

Failure to comply with the legal requirements in England and Wales could lead to closure.

Chris Brown, chief executive officer of the Swansea school, known as the Keystone Education Trust and housed in an office block, welcomed Estyn's report.

He said the trustees were working on an action plan aimed at meeting the requirements, and blamed the shortcomings on being a "new and very small school". His leadership was praised by Estyn as "assiduous and effective", during the May inspection.

A careers adviser will be appointed, in line with Estyn's recommendation, and children are taught about other faiths, including Islam, said Mr Brown.

"We want to produce well-rounded pupils at the end of their schooling. Not all of our teachers belong to our faith and pupils are free to discuss other religions."

But Plaid Cymru said for any school to fall short of the registration standard was "worrying".

Peter Black, Liberal Democrat chair of the National Assembly's education and lifelong learning committee, said he found it "unbelievable" pupils were not taught vital computer skills and sex education.

The director of the Welsh Independent Schools Council (WISC), Ian Brown, said he had been contacted by the Keystone Education Trust and was hoping to meet representatives. He said: "What people forget is that they are a private school, and to that extent have control over their own curriculum.

However, the Assembly does have the power to close the school if they fall short of the registration requirements."

Keystone Education Trust, a registered charity, opened the Brethren school, the only such one in Wales, in September 2003. Affiliated to the Focus Learning Trust, it has 14 part-time staff teaching15 boys and six girls, aged 11 to 17.

The Brethren believe the modern world is the domain of the Devil and children should be taught in safe places away from evil influences. They see TV, computers and some fiction as corrupting influences on children.

Pupils are taught Bible studies rather than religious education.

Estyn found the Swansea pupils "well motivated, diligent, mature, respectful and committed". They achieve good standards in communication and literacy, but fall down in science, as they are not taught the full curriculum. Weaknesses were also found in PE and music. Pupils cannot use computers because they are seen as "damaging to the proper development of children's minds".

An Assembly government spokesperson said: "Potentially any school not meeting the standards could be removed from the register. Anyone who conducts an independent school that is not registered is breaking the law and may be liable to a fine andor imprisonment."


The Exclusive Brethren originated in Ireland, and there are about 15,000 followers in the UK.

Members of the sect live in tight-knit communities based around the traditional married family, and do not mix with outsiders. Young people leaving school go into family businesses, rather than further or higher education, and communities ensure all members are looked after and cared for financially.

Members co-operate with the Government and abide by the law, but do not vote. Although the peace-loving sect preaches tolerance of other beliefs, there are reports that members who leave the sect are ostracised. There are also reports of ex-members seeking psychiatric help because of mental problems.

The sect has a website and some leaders use laptops. However, computers are seen as potentially corrupting to the young and ordinary members are not allowed access to them.

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