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.
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 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
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.”