Sunday, 29 July 2007

Creationism hits Middlesbrough

This is an edited extract from Francis Beckett’s latest book, The Great City Academy Fraud, published by Continuum with my emphasis in bold, the original extract is published here.

"City Academies are the government’s Big Idea for education. Private sponsors – among them wealthy evangelicals and religious organisations – are being courted to fund and run a new generation of superschools.
But while the sponsor might contribute up to £2 million, their money buys them control over schools whose actual cost is more like £35 million. Sponsors contribute nothing to running costs, yet they manage the school’s resources, choose its teachers, and, crucially, decide its curriculum, in perpetuity. Paying for it, in perpetuity, is the responsibility of the taxpayer.
. . .
Of the 46 academies opened by October 2006, 14 – just under a third of the total – will be entirely in the control of Christian organisations or evangelical Christians. Three others have Christian organisations as one half of the sponsorship team. These organisations will have the power to decide what is taught and how it is taught.
. . .
The two most disturbing school sponsors are the evangelical Christians Sir Peter Vardy and Robert Edmiston.
Sir Peter Vardy, whose wealth comes from Reg Vardy PLC, the second-hand car business he inherited from his father, put up £2 million for each of his three academies, which have cost the taxpayer many times that amount. It is you and I who pay the bills.
These bills include £14,039 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association as reimbursement for time on academy business spent by Sir Peter’s brother David, as well as larger sums to Sir Peter’s own company. None of this work was put out to tender, which is a legal requirement in state schools.
As Gwen Evans, then deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, put it: “Academies were supposed to lever private finance into public education, not lever public money into private pockets.”
Academies are also supposed to replace failing schools, and Sir Peter’s staff have put a lot of effort into proving that the two schools his first academy in Middlesborough replaced were failing. In fact, at least one of them – Coulby Newham School – was flourishing. Its last Ofsted report before it was closed down praised every aspect of the school, including its broad–minded inclusiveness – a quality not in evidence in Vardy schools. His academy did not produce better results with the same pupils, despite expelling 10 times as many pupils as the schools which were closed to make way for it.
There’s no room for objection. Vardy’s foundation controls the schools totally, with an inbuilt majority on the governing bodies.
Sir Peter is a creationist. He believes that the Bible is telling the literal truth when it says that the universe was created by God in six days. “Schools should teach the creation theory as literally depicted in Genesis,” said Nigel McQuoid, who runs Vardy’s Emmanuel Schools Trust.
Mr McQuoid also said: “The Bible says clearly that homosexual activity is against God’s design. I would indicate that to young folk.” Many of us would not wish our children to be taught that, but this does not concern Mr McQuoid, who told a local newspaper: “I don’t have to respect everyone’s opinion. I don’t respect the opinion of people who believe it’s fine to live with a partner. Head teachers are responsible to God and the standards of the bible. Nothing in the school should contradict the teachings of the bible.”
“If academies are to succeed,” says his colleague John Burn, “they need to be led and staffed by people who are obedient to God’s truth as revealed in the scriptures.” So, no teachers who do not hold the approved theological opinions. Burn and Sir Peter form a small committee of two to choose heads for their schools whenever it is necessary. None of that nonsense about letting parents or teachers have a say.
Mr Burn is one of the founders of the Newcastle-based Christian Institute, set up in 1991 to promote fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and is an outspoken opponent of the ordination of women. In September 2000, Stephen Layfield, head of science at one of Vardy’s schools, Emmanuel College, Gateshead, delivered a lecture called “The teaching of science – a biblical perspective”. It reads rather like a revivalist sermon and lays down a duty upon teachers to “do all they can to ensure that pupils, parents and fellow colleagues are reminded frequently that all is not what it seems when popular so-called scientific dogma presents itself before them.” When you find mention of evolution in a textbook, “point out the fallibility of the statement.” There are separate notes for the teachers of each of the sciences. Apparently, if you are a physics teacher, you are supposed to tell children that the speed of the rotation of the moon proves that God made the earth.
“May it please God,” he ended, “to raise up a new generation of scientists who are duly respectful of their Maker and who, recognising the limitations of human scientific enquiry, give full weight of respect to the statements of propositional truth of Holy Scripture – being the authoritative word of God.”
The Foundation website, with wonderful doublespeak, calls all this “an academic and inquisitive approach to spiritual matters including, amongst others, creation and the origin of life on earth”.
But there is also a sinister national agenda here. As long ago as 1995, it was spelled out in a booklet from Burn and McQuoid which gives us a chilling insight into the long term agenda of men whom Tony Blair has placed in a powerful position in British education.
It says: “In Britain the Christian churches were active in the field of schooling long before the state took over… In retrospect it is a matter of regret that the churches so readily relinquished control of education to the state.”
And there you have it. Education should be handed back to the churches. Our function as taxpayers should be confined to providing the money with which people like McQuoid and Burn can make sure we bring up a generation in their own image. And right now, the law, they think, is on their side: “It is only by God’s sovereignty that current legislation is couched in such advantageous terms in a country where genuine committed Biblical Christian faith is undermined in so many areas.” The very favourable atmosphere for religious indoctrination in schools is, of course, not the work of God but of Tony Blair, though perhaps that is the same thing.
Lest there is any doubt that religious indoctrination in schools is what they have in mind, consider this sentence: “Please do not mistakenly believe that a classroom or school can be neutral: even the absence of a statement can say that no statement is worth the making. As Christ’s commission clearly exhorts us, we are to go into all the world, preaching the gospel and making disciples.”
After detailing the way in which Christianity should be inculcated in every subject, from literature to geography to pottery, the authors say: “Christian Truth must play a vital part in all these matters because left to themselves they will be distorted and drained of meaning. Christianity and the Biblical Truth must find a place across the whole curriculum and not just be confined to the act of worship and Religious Education.”
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