Fundamentalist education raises eyebrows in Britain

With all the prizes handed out , the snatches of music performed and after a few wise words from the principal, the end of term ceremony is brought to a closes ends with a prayer. “Heavenly Father,” intones one of the governors of the King’s Academy in Middlesbrough, north-east England, “You are the foundation of all we do here.”

Prayers are not unusual in British schools. Unlike many other European countries and the US, the UK does not seek to keep religion out of state education. Churches operate state schools, religious education is part ofon the national curriculum and prayers are an optional feature of morning assembly.

And Yet the presence celebration of God at the King’s Academy has raised many eyebrows since the secondary school was opened two years ago as one of the flagships of a controversial government programme to transform the UK’s worst schools in the state sector with through the involvement of private money and expertise. The school, which is free of charge and non-selective, is one of 17 city academies, across the countryan institution a number the government hopes to multiply.what the government would like in the state education sector.

Perchedof roundabout????? on On the outskirts of Middlesbrough, an ailing industrial city, in northern England, the school is backed by Sir Peter Vardy, the multimillionaire head of one of the UK’s biggest car dealerships and who is also an evangelical Christian. as well as a philanthropist.

Teaching unions, who are already suspicious of private sector involvement in state education, through so-called city academies like Kings, claim that Sir Peter is using his influence as sponsor to promote Christian fundamentalist beliefs and in particular “creationism”. Creationism which follows a literal Biblical interpretation of the genesis of humanity as opposed to the widely accepted theory of evolution.

“I don’t think our members understand why rightwing Christian fundamentalists can pay £2m [$3.5m, €3m] of £20m [school] start-up costs and have control of a curriculum that posits creationism,” says Mary Bousted, head of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Sir Peter rejects such claims, saying that he accepts evolution theory and that he is “not some sort of nutcase”.

On the issue creationism, Sir Peter He notes that while city academies such as King’s are free from the control of local government, which usually has responsibility for education in Britain, it chooses to follow the national curriculum, which teaches evolution theory.

But Pupils are also told off the existence of alternative viewpoints, including creationism, and encouraged to “consider the claims of the Bible” alongside with the national curriculum. A Christian ethos is also present in many aspects of school life – whether for example, in a biblical proverb inscribed on a wall plaque commemorating the opening of the school by Tony Blair, the UK’s prime minister. or bible readings and prayers in morning assembly where there are readings from the Bible and prayers.

The government, which plans to dramatically increase dramatically the number of city academies, which are free of charge and non-selective, from 17 at present to 200 by 2010, also disagrees WITH CREATIONISM??. Tony Blair, prime minister and a practising Christian, favours the presence of faith-based education and has sent his own children to schools run by the Catholic church.

King’s is the second school backed by Sir Peter. A third will opens in September and he says he would like to open several more in the next few years. Earlier This month Bob Edmiston, another multimillionaire car dealer, based in the English Midlands, this last month announced plans to open two “Christian ethos” academies.

Nigel McQuoid, the Kings’ Belfast- born principal of King’s, says the “Christian view” is the “driving force” behind an emphasis on values such as hard work, honesty, courage, respect and a sense of purpose. “I am not a great worshipper of science,” he says, adding that while secularists may be willing to explore the idea of the existence of extraterrestrial existence, they will not accept that any a “fifth dimension” may be God.

The bookshelves in his Mr McQuoid’shis office include well-thumbed copies of titles such as Responding to the Challenge of Evolution and Darwin and the Rise of Degenerate Science. He says that he wants “a school where people are talking about these things” but stresses thatthat no particular views are imposed on children.

“They do give you a different perspective,” says Andrew Emmerson, a sports-mad sixteen 16 16-year-old, who describes himself as not at all Christian. who hopes one day to study history and describes himself as “not at all Christian”. Since starting at King’s last year, he says he has become “a lot more aware” about of religious issues.

Of greater concern for Mr Emmerson was more concerned about the lack of flexibility over the blazered school uniform which all pupils must wear. The uniformIt is an expression of the “traditional values” which King’s espouses. Others arean insistence on strict discipline and organisation of pupils into different “houses” which that generate internal competition. compete against each other.

Sir Peter and Mr McQuoid say such things are key to improve behaviour and academic achievement. But critics say claims that academies achieve better results are as yet unproven and that they have unfairly benefited from generous government spending on buildings and facilities. Research showing that exam scores for 16-year-olds from academies have increased improved faster than the national average are based on a limited number of examples, critics claim.

King’s says that parents desperately want manyof the features associated with traditional education that have disappeared from many UK state secondary schools. in recent decades. At the prize-giving ceremony some of the parents - nearly all dressed in smart casual attire - generally expressed approval of the regime, though some said they found it a bit strict. But, at best, only half joined in the prayer. At best half took joined in the prayer.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.