"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Monday, 30 July 2012

The DofE responds on creationist academy

In this post on the approval of more faith based free schools I said
"The groups applying for Free School status are noticeably more evangelical in nature and are unlikely to confine their religious content to the appropriate places in the syllabus. This is especially true in the case of the proposed Exemplar Academy, a rehash of a bid originally made by the Everyday Champions Church that was, quite correctly, rejected by the DoE. So, why Michael Gove should think that a change of name and the removal of the explicit link with the chuch should have actually changed this group’s creationist agenda is beyond my comprehension"
Well it was obviously beyond the comprehension of the BHA too as they launched a letter writing campaign to Michael Gove, in which I happily participated.
Here is the reply received from his office (emphasis mine):
Thank you for your correspondence, addressed to the Secretary of State, expressing disagreement with his decision to support the Exemplar New Business Academy Free School project with its links to the Everyday Champions Church. I hope you will appreciate the Secretary of State for Education receives a vast amount of correspondence and is unable to reply to each one personally. It is for this reason I have been asked to reply.No Free School is allowed to teach creationism. The Free School application guidance published by the Department now specifically says creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas cannot be taught as valid scientific theories.
Furthermore, the funding agreements for all Free Schools state that divine creation should not be taught as an 'evidence-based view or theory' (a scientific theory) in any lesson: so if a school did do this they would be putting their funding at risk. We are confident that the Free School project you mention will follow the rules, having explored these questions robustly with them at interview.
Prior to entering into a funding agreement, the Academy Trust is required to carry out a consultation about their plans to open a Free School. Consultations can be run in a number of ways including surveys, the launch of a simple website, meetings of key individuals and open public meetings. Academy Trusts also need to demonstrate that they have considered the views of their stakeholders. Most do this by publishing a report setting out the key findings of their consultation.
Every application approved has had to demonstrate that the new school will provide a broad and balanced curriculum. Free Schools are subject to Ofsted inspections in the same way as all other state schools, and the government has powers to intervene in a school where there is significant cause for concern.
Please be assured that the Department will be working with the project mentioned over the coming months to ensure that the assurances they have provided us with are honoured.
The rhetoric is encouraging (it is at least a relief to know that the Department of Education understand what a scientific theory is) but they are being very na├»ve if they think the Exemplar Academy won’t make it very clear to students what they are expected to believe about the theory of evolution. It is very easy to discuss evolution in a biology class in a “this is what scientists think happened” sort of way and even turn out children who correctly answer questions like “What is the scientific explanation for the diversity of life?” But it is equally easy to have the topic discussed in R.E or during assembly in definitive biblical terms, without claiming divine creation to be an evidenced theory.
What Michael Gove and the DofE need to realise is that fundamentalist Christians are intrinsically dishonest; they may well keep to the letter of the law, but they will not honour its spirit. He is expecting this academy’s staff to teach scientific theories, with which they profoundly disagree, in an independent minded and dispassionate way: Not - a - chance.

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