Further to the recent discussion thread here, I utilised the BHA-provided e-mail facility for expressing concern to Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. And have today received the following reply:
Dear Dr Turnpenny
Thank you for your recent correspondence, addressed to the Secretary of State, expressing disagreement with his decision to support a number of Free School projects that you believe intend to teach creationism. I hope you are able to appreciate the Secretary of State for Education receives a vast amount of correspondence and is unable to reply to each one personally. It is for this reason I have been asked to reply.
No Free School is allowed to teach creationism. The Free School application guidance published by the Department now specifically says creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas cannot be taught as valid scientific theories.
Furthermore, the funding agreements for all Free Schools state that divine creation should not be taught as an ‘evidence-based view or theory’ (a scientific theory) in any lesson: so if a school did do this they would be putting their funding at risk. We are confident that the Free School projects you mention will follow the rules, having explored these questions robustly with them at interview.
Prior to entering into a funding agreement, the Academy Trust is required to carry out a consultation about their plans to open a Free School. Consultations can be run in a number of ways including surveys, the launch of a simple website, meetings of key individuals and open public meetings.
Academy Trusts also need to demonstrate that they have considered the views of their stakeholders. Most do this by publishing a report setting out the key findings of their consultation.
Every application approved, including those mentioned in your letter, has had to demonstrate that the new school will provide a broad and balanced curriculum. Free Schools are subject to Ofsted inspections in the same way as all other state schools, and the government has powers to intervene in a school where there is significant cause for concern.
Please be assured that the Department will be working with the projects mentioned over the coming months to ensure that the assurances they have provided us with are honoured.
As part of our commitment to improving the service we provide to our customers, we are interested in hearing your views and would welcome your comments via our website at: www.education.gov.uk/pcusurvey
Public Communications Unit
A similar prohibition in America has not stopped many creationist ideas worming their way into the science class rooms. Teach the strengths and weaknesses of evolution etc. are all ways to get around such bans against teaching strict creationism and I’ve yet to see anything about Free School legislature that would prevent such lope holes.
Yes, it is the apparent loophole that bothers me. The legislation itself is not new, and it is good to see the Dept. of Education reiterate it. But to trust any creationist organisation’s declared intent to ‘follow the rules’ on this is (suspiciously/wilfully?) naïve, I think.
What recourse is there if they start to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” or some other weasel way around the prohibition?
Good question. I suppose it needs someone to recognise the tactic for what it is – and be willing to raise it. Worth putting to the ‘Public Communications Unit’…