Dawkins on Accelerated Christian Education (again) and Ofsted Reports

In his diary for the New Statesman in 2006, Richard Dawkins shared this on Accelerated Christian Education:

“One of my TV locations was a London school that follows the (American) Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) syllabus. The day after watching my show, three colleagues told me they had interviewed, for a place at university, a young woman who had been taught (not at the same school) using ACE. She turned out to be the worst candidate they had ever encountered. She had no idea that thinking was even an option: her job was either to know or guess the “right” answer. Worse, she had no clue how bad she was, having always scored at least 95 per cent in exams – the National Christian Schools Certificate (NCSC). Should my colleagues write to Ofsted about ACE and NCSC? Unfortunately, Ofsted is the organisation that gave a rave review to Tony Blair’s pet city academy in Gateshead: a Christian school whose head of science thinks the entire universe began after the domestication of the dog.”

I realise I am perhaps guilty of confirmation bias here, but that’s exactly what I’d expect to happen to most former ACE students in an Oxbridge interview. The important part is this: She had no idea that thinking was even an option. That’s exactly how ACE teaches. If you come out of an ACE school showing some independent thinking ability, the curriculum cannot be given the credit. Either you’re extraordinarily independent-minded, or you’ve been lucky enough to learn it from somewhere else.

But Dawkins raises an important point: What the hell is Ofsted doing when it gives approving reports to ACE schools?

Admittedly it hasn’t always done this. Oxford professor Geoffrey Walford has described on several occasions (e.g. Educational Politics: Pressure Groups and Faith-Based Schoolsp. 21) how ACE was initially controversial, noting that ACE “suffered badly in the press following poor reports from HM Inspectors during 1985 when at least four new Christian schools were served with notices of complaint. Areas of concern within these reports included… inadequate curriculum. In all these four reports, however, the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) teaching programme used by the schools was a common area of concern.”

Since those days of common sense from Ofsted, things seem to have worsened. Victory, my old ACE school, used to get glowing reports (although none of them are accessible in the online database because the school closed in 2000, and the archive doesn’t go back that far). I am now incensed. I mean, this was a school that found a way to keep spanking children after it was officially outlawed.

There are more recent positive reports for UK ACE schools including Maranatha and Locksley.

The Inspectors are usually only mildly critical of the ACE programme itself. From Carmel Christian School’s 2010 report:

“The school follows the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) programme, which ensures that pupils are able to follow individualised materials as part of the Packages of Accelerated Christian Education (PACES). These materials provide a satisfactory platform on which individual pupils can learn to make progress at their own speed. However, the curriculum is very narrow, and although pupils do have opportunities to experience different subjects and activities, these are not well planned over time.”

A satisfactory platform? John Seal HMI and I have very different ideas about the definition of “satisfactory.”

The generally glowing report on Locksley Christian School (it actually says the school provides a “good curriculum”) also has only brief criticism of ACE, alongside a glowing endorsement of the Biblical basis:

“In line with the school’s aims, there is a pronounced emphasis on Biblical themes and the development of spiritual awareness. This makes an important contribution to the personal and moral development of the students. Students develop appropriate skills in managing their time, setting personal goals and assessing their own progress. Higher level cognitive skills, such as analysis, evaluation and reasoned argument, do not feature sufficiently in many of the ACE workbooks to provide sufficient challenge, particularly for the higher achieving students.”

It seems that curriculum evaluation is outside of the remit for Ofsted; Maranatha’s report only considers how well the school delivers the curriculum, without real comment on the suitability or otherwise of the materials:

“Teaching and assessment are good. Pupils work very hard and are guided and supported well to complete their Packets of Accelerated Christian Education (PACEs). There is detailed, ongoing assessment of pupils’ progress. All pupils are fully engaged and understand the system. They apply themselves very well to their work, setting themselves challenging personal goals, organising their morning and marking and correcting their work. Supervisors (teachers) have sufficient subject knowledge to teach the ACE curriculum and support its assessment.”

Meanwhile, Mark Lindfield HMI is entirely positive about ACE in his report on Emmanuel School, Exeter:

“The curriculum is satisfactory, including the provision made in the Early Years Foundation Stage. In the mornings, the ACE curriculum helps pupils to make good progress because it is well structured and taught. It is used well by the school to meet the varied needs of all pupils, including the youngest children, to help them acquire sound mathematical and English skills. The ACE curriculum suitably covers mathematics, English, word building (vocabulary and spelling), social studies and science and the majority of individuals learn at a good rate during these morning sessions. The Christian nature of the school, the ACE provision and the good role models provided by adults create a good framework for personal, social and health education so that pupils develop a strong spiritual understanding and good social and emotional skills.”

Reading this, I feel the same sense of brutal injustice that tabloid columnists seem to feel every second of every day.

If you’re new to this blog, you’re probably thinking, “Well, Ofsted inspectors are experts. If they think it’s good, they’re probably right.”

Which would be true, if I didn’t have piles of evidence of ACE teaching things which are demonstrably false – just for starters, here, here, and here. And furthermore, evidence from educational experts that the curriculum is unsatisfactory – eg here and here.

Ofsted are failing the children in these schools. These inspectors alone seem to have the power to make a difference, and they are letting these children be taught lies and given a bad education, and signing off on it.

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About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on September 3, 2012, in Accelerated Christian Education, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. These schools are not inspected by Ofsted in the normal way, are they? Don’t faith schools have their own, faith-school-friendly inspection service? A scandal in its own right, I think.

    You should be able to get your school’s reports from the department of education via an FOI request if necessary.

    • I don’t fully understand it yet. There is a thing called the Bridge Schools Inspectorate, in which Muslim Schools and Christian Schools inspect each other in a kind of you-scratch-my-back pact to avoid secular inspectors. This seems cynical to me, to say the least, when you think how strongly conservative Christians and Muslims actually disapprove of each other.

      • Reading “Maranatha” gave me pause. Please read:

        “McDowell and several of those quoted in America’s Providential History came out of Maranatha Campus Ministries, a Charismatic “federation of churches” on or near colleges and university campuses through the 1970s and 80s. Maranatha used “shepherding” techniques on students and aimed to take campuses from what founder Bob Weiner described in his 1988 book Take Dominion as the “controlling homosexuals and Marxists.” Maranatha was disbanded in 1989 after numerous reports of authoritarian and abusive leadership, but many of the Maranatha leaders, including Weiner and J. Lee Grady, became part of C. Peter Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles or leaders in other NAR-style apostolic and prophetic networks.”

        Please read in full: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2013/3/14/11144/4794 (researcher writes for Politial Reasearch Associates in the U.S.)

      • See also (in addition to my comment below) http://www.maranathacommunity.org.uk/

      • Maranatha is a New Testament word that evangelicals usually translate as “Come, Lord Jesus” or similar. I don’t think the Maranathas you mention are connected with Maranatha Christian School in Swindon.

      • [PDF] Maranatha Christian School – Ofsted

        Maranatha is a ‘Christian’ Dominionist outfit which originated in the U.S. They’ve been handily exporting their horrific nonsense abroad. I wouldn’t call this Christianity… it’s a bastardization of faith intent on mixing politics with prosperity gospel religion and they’ve got quite the unholy agenda. Don’t allow it to take root in the UK through your education system. As you may gave noted, the US is now electing the offspirng of this movement to public office via the Tea Party.

  2. One teachers subject knowledge was rated ‘good’ rather than ‘outstanding’ because the Ofsted inspector did not know enough about the subject: http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/ict-teacher-writes-about-ofsted.html

  3. I hate to say this becauwse it may come across as if I am in some way in sympathy with those promoting ACE and their fear based, persecution complex thinking, but what about social engineering? If things are as bad as you claim and I see every reason to believe your right, do you think that allowing them enough rope to hang themselves is the long term goal here? The polarization of American politics is so skewed right now that social darwinists are seen around every corner, from the privitaziation of health care to education. But it makes me wonder. I don’t know British politics, but I presume its got more working class teeth than liberal politics in the US.

  4. I was taught using ACE until 14 where I took GCSE and A level exams then I went to university and studied Chemical-Physics, finally last year I took a PGCE course in science. SO….having seen education from both sides (pupil and teacher) I can say this for ACE it has a very big agenda on disproving the theory of evolution and this is where most of the awful text in the PACEs comes from (which you highlight above). Now the primary drive around this is a belief that if evolution is true then it disproves the bible and therefore God however this is a view that a lot of American Christians believe and not what most other christians believe (I certainly don’t).
    In ACE’s favour I found that due to its self study approach to work I had a great advantage over my peers when it came to research and that attitude of getting on with the work has continued to this day. Also it made me question evolution, now before anyone flies off the handle this was a good thing because good science is asking questions and weighing up evidence. Because of my over critical approach (having been taught evolution is wrong for 14 years) I became a better scientist and even though now I think the evidence is in favour of the theory of evolution it is still a theory and should be taught as such, showing pupils the evidence that supports it and how conclusions are drawn from the evidence. If ACE presented the evidence and then said this is why they think the theory is wrong then the only downer is they haven’t presented the evidence in favour of evolution.

    Something worth noting regarding the lies in ACE books is that ordinary scientific textbooks used in schools contain lots of lies and simplifications which are only realised as lies by students at university level (like electrons orbiting atoms or a completely liquid mantle beneath the earths crust)

    So to summarise ACE
    Good: Self study attitude and research capabilities
    Bad: Anti evolution agenda rather than pro scientific theory

    PS if anyone thinks I can’t spell, I use english spellings because I’m english!

    • Surely the ‘lies’ you mention in the last section are JUST simplifications because of the level of learning appropriate, and these are refined as you move up in your school career?

      I’m going to use your ‘electrons orbiting atoms’ example – The Bohr Model. Nowhere in textbooks I’ve read (at a secondary school-level) does it present this image as any more than a model or way of ‘visualising’ the atom, and why certain chemical reactions between substances take place*… True, this is an inaccurate ‘picture’, but it’s taught for the same reason the whole idea of atoms being nothing more than billiard balls is taught at primary level – the level of understanding, relevance, and practicality is appropriate for most students of that age. Unfortunately, at secondary level, they don’t go much deeper than this ‘lie’, leaving Quantum Physics and the like to university students, but it’s nothing to cry about…

      Education isn’t about throwing all of knowledge at people, it’s about gradual progression, and what you seem to be pointing out is a flaw in this approach. There isn’t one – else the school system wouldn’t exist, and everything would be ‘university level’ from nursery upwards.

      One more thing I’d like to say, is congratulations. How a system that teaches you to not question biblical wisdom and authority, while telling you to not only question but deny and reject and oppose evolution, among other (as close to ‘proven’ as you can be, for a theory) theories, managed to allow you to be somewhat healthily speculative astounds me. You are certainly of a minority, well done again. So please stop defending ACE, it failed most others…


      *In this respect, the ‘lie’ is useful. Think of margins of error/degrees of accuracy; for working out the forces on a 3D moving object, you can reliably predict them using Newtonian physics/mechanics. If you then want to look at the forces inside of the many atoms that make up those objects, you must turn to Quantum mechanics. The fact that classical physics doesn’t apply at this level by no means makes it obsolete, or untrue, it’s just that to get a reliable picture you must use a method tailored to the complexity of the questions you’re asking.

      If you were a child curious about the bugs in your garden, you may use a magnifying glass. But an entomologist may decide to, at some point, crack out their microscope for a better look. The child does not hold a deceiving piece of trickery in their hand as a result, though. (A terrible analogy I know, forgive me.)

  5. Makes quite interesting reading. I’m a teacher, so perhaps can explain the excerpts from the OFSTED reports a bit more:
    1. Some of them really do skim over the curriculum, which seems strange. Realistically though, no inspection team going
    into a school is likely to spend too much time trashing a curriculum which OFSTED isn’t attacking centrally.
    2. They do tend to highlight areas for concern (lack of range and lack of thinking skills), and in fact most ACE schools are forced to expand delivery outside of the ACE curriculum (in my school we did ACE in the mornings only, which is quite common I think).
    3. You object to the word ‘satifactory’. I agree, but do bear in mind that OFSTED inspectors can rate a school (or feature) Outstanding, Good, Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory(which leads to major change). Satisfactory is the worst thing they can say without rejecting the curriculum (see point 1)
    4. OFSTED sees a few days of a school in small glimpses. The major issues are what is lacking (thinking skills / range of subjects / range of opinions) from the curriculum rather than what is present, which makes it harder for OFSTED to see. They also focus on a list of standards and targets which perhaps are more well attuned to the issues of a Nat Curriculum school than an ACE school.
    5. I really do think someone (???) needs to take it up with OFSTED centrally.
    6. Some things in ACE schools DO tend to be good. Behaviour was excellent in my school (I know that now I’ve taught in so many nat curr schools). Ownership of learning is generally good since learners often set their own goals and choose t
    he order in which they study.(II think some things about PACE’s are a good idea, but of course the content is appallingly poor, even if your ignore the constant bigotry). Relationship between parents, staff and students and in the student community is generally good because of the small size and the common belief structure. Because of the small size and because of the flexibility of study goals, the MAT’s (most able/talented) and SEN (Special ed needs) kids sometimes do get good support.

    My point is that the inspection teams in general often do what they can from within the OFSTED position that ACE is satisfactory. I know they improved my school and increased the diversity of delivery (outside of ACE) and forced our teacher
    s to use the afternoon lessons to make us think! If you want to pursue this issue, you can highlight the lack of engagement with ACE from the inspectors, but realistically they’re not the problem — it would have to be tackled centrally. As Dawkins says, that becomes a political issue. Bear in mind that Gove is currently running education like a self-appointed Czar and that he strongly supports religious schools. My mum was actually in contact with him prior to the elections, lobbying him and gaining his views on religious schools to try and improve support for ACE. She was pleased with the discussions they had. Perhaps we need to get rid of this fucking evil government before we can deal with this problem, along with all the poverty, suffering and destitution they’ve caused for the non-wealthy.

    • Thanks for posting this Sam, it’s really interesting and helpful. I agree that the problem is with Ofsted centrally probably more than the inspectors (although if I were inspecting an ACE school, I’d raise whatever hell I could with whoever is appropriate).

      Like waterlexeme, I’m sceptical about school inspections. I’ve taught in FE colleges, so I know about Ofsted’s inspections for them more than about schools. I am not impressed by Ofsted in that context. My PG Cert class and tutors were unanimously agreed that the tick-sheet they use for observation assessments is not meaningful. You can tick all the boxes to get a Grade 1 on your Ofsted inspection and still deliver a rubbish lesson, and you can deliver a great lesson without technically meeting all the criteria.

      2. It’s official ACE policy to do PACE work only in the mornings. The problem is what they recommend for the rest of the week. Every student is expected to attend a devotions class (religious instruction) and chapel (religious instruction). Fridays are for privilege activities for high-achieving students; poor students are given more PACE work as punishment. One afternoon is meant to be preparing for ACE student convention. That only leaves a couple of hours per week for the “other stuff” which, in reality, is the only real education in the timetable (assuming the delivery is good, and you can’t guarantee that).

      4. Yeah, the method of inspection is just unsuited to a fair assessment of an ACE school.

      5. Yep. Any volunteers? 🙂 It would be nice if I weren’t the only one making a noise about this.

      As for the government… a conversation for another place, but you’re right. With Gove in the driving seat, things are more difficult.

  6. Personally, I am pretty cynical when it comes to school inspections. There are probably two things at play here. Schools know how to play the game. Schools know what inspectors are looking for and they know what type of report they need to get to suit funding or student catchment. I have not only seen this dynamic at play, in fact I have participated in it. My guess is that Christian schools that use ACE know full well how they need to select to present themselves to get the type of report they are looking for.

    The other thing is the inspectors themselves. While some really have drunk from the Kool-Aid, most are career bureaucrats, so if the political wind is blowing a certain way they are not going to be the ones rocking the boat. It is easier not to dig to deeply. They probably judge correctly that most people don’t care what a few religious nutters are doing with their kids, but that ‘gunning’ for certain schools with seriously dedicated player bases is going to make their working lives difficult. So a compromise is reached. The Education Department goes ‘tsk, tsk you need to fix A, B, C”. The school pretends to ‘fix’ A, B, C enough to look vaguely convincing to parents and the news media. I don’t really like being this cynical, but having been involved with this ‘game’ I know how it gets played.

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