Monthly Archives: June 2014

Are ACE schools using misleading advertising?

The world has learned that ACE schools teach that evolution is a lie, wives must submit to their husbands, being gay is a sin, and abortion is murder. But for some ACE graduates, that might not be the most damaging thing.

During the Newsnight investigation into Accelerated Christian Education, Anjana Ahuja noticed that many ACE schools were claiming that you could get into university with their (unaccredited) qualification, the ICCE (International Certificate of Christian Education). So she contacted some of the universities alleged to have accepted the ICCE for university entrance, and of those who replied, none of them said they accepted the ICCE.

Imperial College London: Does not recognise the ICCE. (Image credit: Man Vyi, via Wikimedia Commons.)

So can you get into university with an ACE education? Despite claims that more than 50 UK universities have accepted ICCE graduates, this is obviously still a controversial question among parents at ACE schools. The ICCE board is at pains to insist you can, and many ACE schools’ websites describe it as a “university entrance qualification”. Actually, it’s not as easy as they make out. If students have been accepted, often it’s because the universities made an exception to their usual policy, or because the students had additional, recognised qualifications, and it was these that gave them access to higher education.

The reality of the situation is that UK students leave ACE school with no officially recognised qualification whatsoever.

Here’s Anjana with the full story:
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“How a Christian education caused me to lose my faith”

That’s the title of an interview with me at Christian Today.

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When they approached me for an interview, I immediately said yes, but I wasn’t sure what they would say about me. As I write this, my interview sits alongside other CT articles with titles including “Why we must not let fundamentalist atheism destroy our Christian education system”, and “Trojan Horse: Forget Islam, the real threat is from secularists who want faith removed from schools”. They also recently ran an article by ACE school owner Adrian Hawkes, a man for whom I don’t have a lot of time. It didn’t seem like the sort of site where my line of thinking would be automatically welcomed.

Not that Christian Today is a mouthpiece for traditional fundamentalism. There’s also a recent interview with Vicky Beeching arguing in favour of marriage equality. So it seems like at least some of CT’s readers are the kind of evangelicals who would give me a fair hearing. And I’ve always said that to end abusive fundamentalist education, we need evangelicals on board. Some of the people who have been most shocked by ACE have been evangelicals. After all, its their religion that ACE gives a bad name.

Here’s the article.

TUC LGBT conference condemns Accelerated Christian Education

The TUC (Trades Union Congress) LGBT 2014 conference is currently underway, and yesterday the delegates unanimously passed an emergency resolution condemning Accelerated Christian Education’s teaching on homosexuality.

The LGBT conference represent the LGBT sections of all the unions in the TUC. Twenty-nine unions were represented in the voting, with six trades and regional councils observing. The anti-ACE motion was passed unanimously, with no abstentions or objections. The Prospect union tabled the motion, seconded by the University and College Union, which referred to ACE as “faith fascism”. The National Union of Teachers also spoke in favour of the motion, along with ATL, CWU, Unite, and CSP.

This means that the resolution is now adopted as policy for the TUC National LGBT committee.

David Waldock presents at the TUC LGBT Conference 2014 (Photo: Gillian Donaldson-Selby)

David Waldock presents at the TUC LGBT Conference 2014 (Photo: Gillian Donaldson-Selby)

The real hero of the day is ACE survivor David Waldock, who has previously written movingly of his experiences as a gay teenager in an ACE school. He tabled the emergency motion, and he spoke in favour of it. The text of the motion and his speech script (which may differ from what he actually said in the heat of the moment) are below.

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Christian Education Europe must be loving all this ‘persecution’

It’s fair to say the last ten days have not been the best for Christian Education Europe. The coverage continued over the weekend, with stories from The Times, Independent (syndicated in the Times of India), Huffington Post, and Yahoo News (although most of these seemed to be largely plagiarised from the Manchester Evening News). There was local coverage in both the Windsor Observer and Express. Following this, the shadow education minister, Tristram Hunt, branded the schools “backward” on Twitter:

He expanded on these comments in an interview with Pink News:

“There is absolutely no place in our schools for these sorts of backward views.

“Labour will not allow these dangerous ideas to go unchallenged. I will be writing to Michael Gove to demand that action is taken.

“If there are schools using these materials in receipt of public funds, then serious questions need to be answered.”

Either Hunt believes, as a matter of principle, that teaching this to children is wrong, or he senses there is political capital to be made from attacking fundamentalist educators at the moment. I have no wish to cast aspersions on him as a politician, so I assume it’s the latter. Either way, the quality of education in private Christian schools finally appears to be on the political agenda.

How will Christian Education Europe be taking all this? Well, if they listen to ACE’s founder, they’ll be loving it.

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Are some private Christian schools operating in secret?

How many ACE schools are there really? In all the press coverage this week, it’s been a bit confused.

The BBC website went with “about 50”. The Daily Mail said “up to 25”. The Manchester Evening News plumped for “22 UK schools”, while the Bristol Post claimed there were 30. As I write this, the CEE website lists 32 institutions, two of which are called ‘tuition centres’ and one of which is a nursery, leaving 29, the figure given by Jeremy Vine. On Newsnight, Anjana Ahuja told the world it was “at least 30”.

So how many are there really?

The truth is that no one (besides Christian Education Europe, presumably) knows, but the official numbers do not add up. It appears that some ACE schools are operating entirely under the radar.

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Newsnight tonight

In one hour and twenty minutes from now, an episode of BBC Newsnight featuring me will go to air. It will talk about ACE schools in the UK, and it also has interviews with Professor Michael Reiss, and Paul Medlock from Maranatha Christian School. The film is by Anjana Ahuja.

(Disclaimer: The BBC will not be marketing the episode as ‘Newsnight featuring Jonny Scaramanga’).

Tune in from 10:30 on BBC2, UK viewers. Everyone else, I’ll try my best to get them to put it on the Newsnight YouTube channel afterwards.

If you are killing time until it goes to air, I heartily recommend that you read Paul Braterman’s blog on the subject:

Evolution is a lie says the school. Good curriculum, says England’s School Inspectorate

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Will someone please sort out the Accelerated Christian Education Wiki?

The ACE Wikipedia page is not brilliant. It’s also not terrible. It’s far better than it was when I started blogging. I’m guessing whoever the recent editors were, they are readers of this blog (so many thanks), because they’ve used it quite extensively as a source. Unfortunately, WordPress.com blogs are not very credible, and it would be good to improve the entry with some more respectable citations.

I’d do it myself, but I’m busy enough without learning the Wikipedia code. I realise it’s not rocket science, but it’s also not absolutely straightforward for someone who’s never done any coding. I am, however, happy to help any Wikipedia editors who want advice or fact-checking.

The ACE page has been the subject of a quite entertaining edit war, which now appears to be over. There used to be a large section on criticism of ACE, and for a while there was a back-and-forth on the Talk page. The criticism of ACE by David Berliner, in particular, was repeatedly removed and re-added. By the time I started blogging, the pro-ACE wing had won and all criticism was gone from the page. These days, things are a little better, but the page needs a tidy-up. Here’s my rundown of suggested improvements.

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ACE BBC FTW

So yesterday I was on the Jeremy Vine show. UK listeners can catch up on BBC iPlayer here (You want the episode dated 12/06/2014, and my segment starts at 1:09:29). International readers, I hope to have a way for you to hear it in the near future. There’s also an accompanying BBC News article online called “Life in a Christian ‘fundamentalist’ school“.

Defending ACE on the show was Giles Boulton. It may surprise you to learn that I like Giles (as does pretty well everyone that’s met him). He was the ‘cool kid’ at my school, and when I saw him a couple of weeks back at a school reunion, he was thoughtful. He was clear that he didn’t support some of ACE’s positions (he called their political views “crazy”), and equally clear that children need to question things and consider other ideas. He argues that ACE can be supplemented with other good quality teaching to produce a balanced education. I think this is naïve at best, and doesn’t recognise all the ways the environment of a conservative Christian school and the PACEs serve to discourage students from expressing individual thought or challenging core ideas. But still, Giles is undoubtedly well-intentioned and I expect the additional philosophy lessons he offers his students are good.

He got shouted down a bit on the show—partly because he was defending the indefensible, and partly because the debate was loaded in my favour. Jeremy Vine gave Giles a hard time, while I didn’t get asked any difficult questions, and I got to set the terms of the debate because I spoke first and for longer.

Still, the reaction from Twitter was overwhelmingly in my favour. There was no specific hashtag for the debate, so finding tweets about it involves wading through the entire @bbcradio2 and @thejeremyvine feeds, but yesterday I could find exactly one (1) pro-ACE tweet when I looked (here’s my Storify of Twitter’s reaction).

Check out the BBC article; I think it’s pretty good:

The Trojan Horse investigation has focused on an alleged plot to take over some Birmingham schools and run them according to Islamic principles. But while the role of Islam in education has come in for scrutiny, across the UK many students also follow a strict “fundamentalist” Christian curriculum.

For 29-year-old Jonny Scaramanga, who attended Victory Christian School in Bath until he was 14, the experience was “horrendous”.

“At 8:15 I would arrive at my ‘office’ – a desk 2ft wide, with dividers 18 ins tall, designed to remove ‘distractions’,” he said.

“Every morning we had an opening exercise: reciting pledges of allegiance to Jesus Christ, God and the Bible. Next, we recited that month’s scripture passage; we had to memorise around 10-15 Bible-verses each month.”

He said the school adopted a “fundamentalist attitude” to religion, adding: “If you believed what they believed, you were Christian. If you believed anything else, you were not Christian.”

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Media blitz

This blog is not dead. I’ve just been busy making some things happen in the real world.

Tomorrow, I will be appearing on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 for a live interview. This is the biggest show on British radio. There will also be a live phone-in (0500 288291; email vine@bbc.co.uk; twitter @thejeremyvine/ @bbcradio2). It would be awesome to have other ex-students or people with relevant knowledge calling in. The show’s on air from 12; please make your voice heard if you have time (and that goes for people who disagree too; the show is all about debate).