Two further creationist-run Free Schools are due to open in 2012 and 2013, the British Humanist Association (BHA) can reveal. Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland, currently a private all-through school but approved last October by the Department for Education to open as a Free School from this September, has a ‘Creation Policy’ on its website in which they ‘affirm that to believe in God’s creation of the world is an entirely respectable position scientifically and rationally’ and state they will ‘teach creation as a scientific theory’; while Sevenoaks Christian School, a secondary school in Kent approved to open from 2013, sets out the creationist beliefs of the school’s founders, and explains that creationism will be taught in Religious Education (RE).
On Friday, the Department for Education announced that 102 new Free Schools have been ‘pre-approved’ to open from next year – 33 of which are ‘faith’ schools. The BHA also revealed that one of the proposed schools, ‘Exemplar – Newark Business Academy’, was from a creationist group that last year had its bid rejected by the Government due to concerns around teaching creationism. When rejecting that bid, the DfE said that Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove ‘was unable to accept that an organisation with creationist beliefs could prevent these views being reflected in the teaching in the school and in its other activities’. However, Mr Gove approved the same group a year later, after they promised to only teach creationism in RE, not science.
Since then, the BHA has identified two more creationist Free Schools. Grindon Hall Christian School’s ‘Creation Policy’ states that the school does ‘not share the rigid creationist’s insistence on a literalistic interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis’ and that ‘We are therefore very happy to believe that God could have created the world in six days. But we do not feel that it is helpful to affirm it as an unarguable fact.’ It goes on to say that ‘We will teach creation as a scientific theory and we will always affirm very clearly our position as Christians, i.e. that Christians believe that God’s creation of the world is not just a theory but a fact with eternal consequences for our planet and for every person who has ever lived on it.’
Commenting on Grindon Hall, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘Grindon Hall Christian School is a classic example of the so-called “teach the controversy” approach, often used by American creationist groups to get creationism taught in schools. Creationists do not argue that evolution should be taught; they simply argue that there is genuine scientific debate over the origins of the Universe and the Earth, and that therefore creationism should be taught alongside evolution. The issue with the “teach the controversy” approach is that there is no scientific controversy over evolution and creationism: the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly in favour of evolution.’
In its FAQ, in response to the question ‘Will you teach creationism?’, Sevenoaks Christian School explain: ‘Christians believe that God made the world, loves the world and is pleased with his creation. In RE we plan to teach about this and our responsibility as stewards of this precious earth. The government has said that free schools cannot teach “creationism” or “intelligent design” in science lessons as an alternative to the theory of evolution and we are content to accept this.’
Referring to Sevenoaks, Mr Copson continued, ‘It is plain from their comments that Sevenoaks Christian School are a creationist group who have identified that they can’t teach creationism in science, so they will teach it in RE instead. Teaching creationism in RE is no more acceptable than teaching it in science as pupils who are taught one thing in one subject and then the opposite in another are going to end up confused. The previous government made this very clear in their guidance on creationism and it is deeply concerning to see the present government watering that down.’
Examining both bids together, Mr Copson concluded, ‘Michael Gove said that he was “crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact”. So it is startling to see two Free Schools that intend to teach creationism in RE and one that intends to teach creationism as a valid scientific theory. Either the scrutiny to which bids are being subjected is inadequate, or the government’s policy statements are untrue.’
Grindon Hall Christian School’s Creation Policy in more detail
The Creation Policy starts off by explaining that:
We will affirm the fact that “God created the world and everything in it”. We will affirm that he did so “ex nihilo” – out of nothing.
We believe that God, as sovereign Lord of the universe, is capable of creating the world in a few 24-hour days, or over a period of millions of years.
It goes on to state that the school does ‘not share the rigid creationist’s insistence on a literalistic interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis’ and that ‘We are therefore very happy to believe that God could have created the world in six days. But we do not feel that it is helpful to affirm it as an unarguable fact.’
However, it is clear that the school genuinely believes that there is genuine scientific controversy around whether or not God created the Universe and the world. The policy then explains:
we vigorously challenge the unscientific certainty often claimed by scientists surrounding the so-called “Big Bang” and origins generally.
We believe that no scientific theory provides – or ever will provide – a satisfactory explanation of origins, i.e. why the world appeared, and how nothing became something in the first place.
We will teach evolution as an established scientific principle, as far as it goes.
We will teach creation as a scientific theory and we will always affirm very clearly our position as Christians, i.e. that Christians believe that God’s creation of the world is not just a theory but a fact with eternal consequences for our planet and for every person who has ever lived on it.
We will affirm that to believe in God’s creation of the world is an entirely respectable position scientifically and rationally.
For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson on 07534 248596.
Read the previous press release on Exemplar Academy, Creationists approved to open Free School in 2013, 13 July 2012: http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1076
Yesterday afternoon the BHA posted a facility through which people could write to their MPs or Michael Gove. By today, over 1,000 emails had been sent: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/what-you-can-do-to-help/creationist-free-schools
In 2011, the BHA came together with 30 leading scientists and educators and four other organisations to launch ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ Read the statement from scientists including Sir David Attenborough, Professor Richard Dawkins and Professor Michael Reiss, and organisations including the BHA, the Association for Science Education, the British Science Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering and Ekklesia: http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/
View the BHA-backed Government e-petition on the same subject: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1617
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on countering creationism: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/countering-creationism
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.