A clear conflict of interests
First up, some dates for your diary:
Tuesday 13th November (that’s tomorrow) I will be on 4Thought TV, on Channel 4 (UK), 7.55pm GMT. More info here. The video will be available to see online afterwards, and I’ll post it here. I haven’t seen it yet, so I’m a bit nervous. I was interviewed for about half an hour and it’s going to be edited to two minutes. It is therefore a virtual certainty that I won’t feel they’ve done me justice, but oh well.
Thursday 17th January I will be giving my talk “Inside Britain’s Creationist Schools” at Reading Skeptics in the Pub. More info will be coming shortly at http://reading.skepticsinthepub.org/.
Here’s the transcript of my talk, for all you people who prefer reading to listening. It’s about conflicts of interest in the way faith schools are inspected – be it Stephen Dennett, or the Bridge Schools Inspectorate.
In Britain, Church of England schools are a part of the furniture. We’re so familiar with them that we tend to assume that faith schools are cuddly, tolerant places which children of all faiths can attend without discrimination. Places where a minimum of indoctrination takes place.
I am concerned, then, about Britain’s minority of independent faith schools which teach in many cases very extreme views, but are subject to almost no scrutiny. I have previously reported for the Pod Delusion on the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, used in over 50 British private schools.
Accelerated Christian Education, or ACE, hit headlines earlier this year when the Scottish Herald reported that on its science curriculum. It emerged that one ACE science book claims that the Loch Ness Monster is evidence that dinosaurs are still alive today – a fact which they say discredits evolution, and supports creationism. Elsewhere, the curriculum describes evolution as an “indefensible theory” and repeatedly states that no transitional fossils exist.
It’s not just ACE’s science curriculum which is questionable. In history, ACE has taught that the reason Britain defeated the Spanish Armada was because it was God’s will. If Spain had won, the logic goes, then America would have been Catholic. It was always God’s plan for America to lead the world with the only true faith, protestant Christianity.
In politics, ACE teaches that God’s views are right wing, and that the term “left-wing” is so given because “left” means “sinister” or “twisted.” Students are taught that all forms of government healthcare and social benefits are against God’s will.
With such a worrying curriculum, it is paramount that these schools are subjected to rigorous and objective inspections. So I was shocked to discover that one Ofsted inspector charged with reporting on these schools is a Mr. Stephen Dennett.
When not inspecting for OFSTED, Stephen Dennett is curriculum writer for Accelerated Christian Education. He is currently writing their British social studies course, for which he takes payment. He was formerly employed in a senior management position by Christian Education Europe, the distributors of ACE materials. And he has written a book, A Case for Christian Education, in praise of the ACE curriculum.
It is impossible that Stephen Dennett can provide a sufficiently rigorous inspection of Accelerated Christian Education schools. But the first page of a google search turns up four ACE schools he has inspected – Carmel Christian School, Mustard School, Beehive School, and the Christian School of London.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the authorities have been happy to turn a blind eye to lower standards in Christian schools. I’ve previously told the Pod Delusion how UK NARIC – the body responsible for assessing the comparability of international qualifications – has deemed Accelerated Christian Education’s qualifications on a par with A levels. And then there is the Bridge Schools Inspectorate.
The Bridge Schools Inspectorate is a collaboration between the Christian Schools’ Trust and the Association of Muslim Schools, UK. This, immediately, gives me pause. The Christian Schools’ Trust (CST) is a highly conservative body, representing around 40 British schools. In 2006, the CST polled twelve of its schools; eleven of them were teaching that evolution was false, with the twelfth head teacher stating he did not know what position his school took on evolution. An earlier study of 52 of these Christian Schools by Geoffrey Walford found that almost all taught the Bible’s six days of Creation as literally true. [Source of information of the BSI here]
I grew up with these kinds of Christians, and I was taught that Islam was a religion inspired directly by Satan to lure people into hell. Its similarity to Christianity was all part of Satan’s plot. While the Christian Schools’ Trust might not use exactly those words, I’m sure they would say that Islam is a false religion. And they would have to agree, according to John 8:44, that Satan is the father of lies. So, according to this kind of theology, we’re back with Muslims as followers of the devil.
Why, then, would the Christian Schools’ Trust collaborate with Muslims? It seems to me it’s because the formation of the Bridge Schools Inspectorate allows them to inspect their own schools, thus avoiding unsympathetic inspectors. Mind you, if Stephen Dennett is anything to go by, that fear may be unfounded.
The first objective of the Bridge Schools Inspectorate is “To protect and to promote the religious ethos and philosophy of our school communities.”
As a former student at a fundamentalist Christian school, this looks like a cynical exercise in mutual back-scratching. The CST is willing to jump into bed with Muslims rather than face inspection by a body which might question its teaching of Creationism.
There is also an assumption present in reports of faith schools that teaching of values and morals is automatically good if the curriculum is Bible-based. This assumption needs challenging. At my ACE school, Catholics, Muslims, liberals, gays, and especially humanists came in for a huge amount of abuse.
These schools need very searching inspections, and that can’t happen while they’re inspecting themselves, or using their own curriculum writers as inspectors.