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.
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.”