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.
In January 2009, Christian Education Europe told the Human Rights Joint Committee that there were “some 59 schools with an annually renewable contract”.
But if you look on a web archive like the Wayback Machine, you will see that CEE’s schools directory probably never listed that many schools (there is no archive from January 2009, so we can’t check that exact date). The nearest captures are from September 2008 and April 2009.
On September 18, 2008, the website listed 47 schools in Europe, of which 36 were in the UK.
The archive from April 27, 2009 is unchanged from the September 2008 version. Now, I can’t prove that 23 schools weren’t added to the UK directory between September 2008 and January 2009, and then removed again before April 2009, but it seems unlikely, doesn’t it?
Then on the 11 April 2010, the BBC reported that a new ACE school opening in Hull would be the 60th in the UK. That makes sense based on the figure of 59 in 2009. The Wayback Machine’s next archive of the CEE website wasn’t until June 2011, at which point the directory named 34 schools in the UK and Ireland, and a further 11 on the continent. It seems very unlikely that the CEE website listed more than 50 schools at any point between 2008 and 2011.
So we have a question: Did Christian Education Europe lie to the Human Rights Joint Committee and the BBC, or are there secret ACE schools operating around the country?
Here’s the thing: I don’t think CEE lied to the Human Rights Joint Committee. Why would they? What could they realistically gain from it? Why would they violate a central tenet of their religion? Why would they risk losing all credibility with the government if they were found out?
So I think there were 59 schools in 2009, and I think there were 60 in 2010. Which means there are almost certainly more than 29 now. Where are they?
William Todd’s 1984 PhD thesis (a rich source on the early history of ACE in the UK) gives us some clues. In 1984, a number of ACE schools were served with notices of complaint by Her Majesty’s Inspectors, and one closed following this. There was quite a lot of adverse press coverage around ACE at this time, with one article in the Times carrying the headline “Sect School Pupils ‘Regularly Beaten'”. CEE did not want any more scrutiny.
Todd quotes an anonymous representative of Christian Education Europe as saying:
We have a policy of not issuing lists of A.C.E. schools after the critical H.M.I.’s report on one school in Coventry. We felt they were unusually fastidious and fear that political pressure could be brought to bear on our schools, particularly if there was a change of Government.
My understanding is that the list on CEE’s website has always been opt-in for the schools. It isn’t a comprehensive list, only a directory of those schools who wish to advertise their services. This is not that surprising. The vast majority of ACE schools are attached to a church, and some of these churches take the doctrine of ‘biblical separation‘ very seriously. They might well only offer education to children of families who are already members of the church, so they obviously wouldn’t advertise their services more widely. Some of them are also probably just glorified home schools. According to its 2013 Ofsted report, for instance, Oxford Christian School had just ten pupils. And that’s one of the schools which does advertise in the directory. The other invisible schools, wherever they may be, are unlikely to have huge enrolments.
All this raises a question. These schools are private and, they might argue, minding their own business. Why shouldn’t they operate without being listed in any directories?
For campaigners against ACE of course, it is a problem. There could well be an ACE school in your town, teaching homophobia, misogyny and anti-evolution nonsense, and very few people would know about it. You might like to raise awareness of this, calling for closer scrutiny of the content of private school lessons and checking that the schools are being inspected thoroughly. You can’t do this if you don’t know the school exists. You might even say these are Trojan Horse schools.
It makes me uncomfortable that a school teaching extremist positions could exist without any scrutiny, but that scrutiny need not come from the public. All this would be fine if we had confidence that the schools are being inspected thoroughly and fairly. For various reasons, it’s currently difficult to have that confidence.
Posted on June 19, 2014, in Accelerated Christian Education, Atheism, Christianity, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism and tagged Accelerated Christian Education, ACE, extremism, Newsnight, Private schools, Religion, Trojan Horse. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.