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Yes, it’s the Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm once again. It’s been awarded a Quality Mark by the Council for Learning Outside The Classroom (CLOtC). This is despite the fact it’s pushing a particularly bonkers creationist agenda that flies in the face of all the scientific evidence. This crossed my radar this morning, and as I was pondering whether to respond, I find that the Ministry of Truth blog has done this already (Creationist Zoos and ‘Quality’ Badges) and covers most of the ground.

You may recall Alice Roberts took a pop at the zoo in The Guardian recently (seeAlice Roberts vs. the Christian Schools’ Trust and creationism). What’s particularly bonkers is that CLOtC guidance for a Quality Mark requires the following 6 ‘high level indicators':

      1. The provider has a process in place to assist users to plan the learning  experience effectively;
      2. The provider provides accurate information about its offer;
      3. The provider provides activities or experiences which meet learner needs;
      4. The provider reviews the experience and acts upon feedback;
      5. The provider meets the needs of users; and
      6. The provider has safety management processes in place to manage risk effectively.

Not much there about your actual educational experience…

This seems to be rerun of the last time CLOtC awarded these creationists an award (Noah’s ark zoo farm wins prize). That forum thread includes the correspondence BCSE had with the clots at CLOtC.

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After having a pop at the Noah’s Ark Farm Zoo (Alice Roberts visits The UK’s creationist zoo), Alice Roberts has taken aim at the Christian Schools Trust’s actions in teaching creationism to kids (Alice Roberts: children ‘indoctrinated’ by lessons in creationism). According to the article (which is based on an interview in TES), the Christian Schools Trust is actively teaching creationism:

The TV presenter, who is the new president of the Association for Science Education, said that teaching about creationism alongside evolution risked closing pupils’ minds to scientific discoveries.

Her comments came as it emerged that the Christian Schools’ Trust – a network of 40 independent schools – confirmed that teaching about creationism in science was common in its institutions.

The Trust said there was “strong sympathy to Young Earth, six-day creation” in its schools but insisted this did not amount to indoctrination.

Appalling news. Unfortunately as independent schools, these 40 establishments appear to be immune from the requirements to follow the national curriculum:

The new national curriculum for primary schools, due to be introduced this September, contains a clear requirement for pupils to be taught about evolution.

But the curriculum only applies to state schools, not private schools. State-funded academies and free schools can also choose not to follow it.

This is pretty shabby news, especially the comment that academies and free schools are free to ignore the curriculum and teach anti-scientific bronze age drivel. Perhaps the comments of a high-profile Professor of Public Engagement in Science (and the new President of the Association for Science Education) will have a significant effect.

Update:

A similar article at The Guardian’s website (Ban the teaching of creationism in science lessons, says Alice Roberts) covers the same stuff:

In an interview with the Times Educational Supplement (TES), Prof Roberts, who has presented a number of BBC programmes including The Incredible Human Journey and Origins of Us, said: “There should be regulation that prevents all schools, not just state schools, from teaching creationism because it is indoctrination, it is planting ideas into children’s heads. We should be teaching children to be much more open-minded.

“People who believe in creationism say that by teaching evolution you are indoctrinating them with science, but I just don’t agree with that. Science is about questioning things. It’s about teaching people to say, ‘I don’t believe it until we have very strong evidence’.”

 

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I see from The Guardian that Alice Roberts (Professor of Public Engagement at Birmingham University, and frequent TV presenter) has visited the Noah’s Ark Farm Zoo (Why I won’t be going back to Bristol’s creationist zoo: A creationist zoo in Bristol will bewilder adults and potentially undermine children’s education).

I’ve previously blogged about this zoo and its many issues (Creationist zoo suspended…Creationist zoo causes dismay in the ranks of the humanistsCreationist zoo wins education prizeMore news coverage of the Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm fracasAnne Widdecombe approves of the creationist zooGuardian Blog: Creationists seek to insert their own brand of ‘truth’ into education), and frankly, it’s absurd that this zoo continues to exist after the ups and downs it has experienced (from approval from Widdecombe to winning an education prize (itself completely absurd) to being struck off by the British and Irish Association of Zoos).

Alice Roberts has a jolly good poke at why this “zoo” is so bad, and concludes:

In this zoo, the creationists have built themselves an impressive soapbox. I felt that I had to visit, if only to know what I would be excluding my children from if I stopped them going on school visits to this popular destination. I want my children to learn critical thinking, but the “critical approach” put forward by Noah’s Ark is a disingenuous redressing of a centuries-old story which has its place in our culture but has absolutely nothing to do with science education.

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T. Ryan Gregory announces at Genomicron (Big news about Evolution: Education and Outreach) that the Springer journal Evolution: Education and Outreach will be open access from January 2013.

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There’s an article in today’s Guardian which indicates that all these free schools which form part of Michael Gove’s misguided concept of state centralisation of education must teach evolution (Free schools must teach evolution, ministers announce).

All free schools will be forced to present evolution as a comprehensive and central tenet of scientific theory, ministers have announced, following lobbying by senior scientists concerned that Christian-run institutions could exploit loopholes in the rules to present creationism as a credible theory.

The significance here is clear – for all the free schools founded by the more extreme sectors of evangelical christianity (and, I guess, schools run with any other religious ethos) evolution must be taught as part of the science curriculum. The worry had been that such Free schools such as the Grindon Hall Christian School (see The Grindon Hall Creation Policy document) would teach their (ir)relevant creation myths under the guise of Religious Studies, and then just omit evolutionary biology from their science classes.

Still, worries must arise around just how these religiously motivated Free schools will be inspected – both in terms of how effective this can be and who actually does the inspection.

Wouldn’t it just be easier not to allow these kinds of people to run schools in the first place?

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Among the three Free Schools heavily implicated in creationism that were announced recently is Grindon Hall Christian School. Over at their website (Grindon Hall Christian School – The School), we can read:

A Christian School – this means we affirm Christian truth, employ Christian teachers, hold a daily act of Christian worship and aim to have Christ at the centre of all we do.  It means we pursue excellence in everything we do, from academic life to sport and extra-curricular activities.  It does not mean we only admit children from Christian families: around 80% of our pupils are from non-faith or other faith backgrounds and all are welcome.  And it does not mean that we adopt extremist positions which in our view can often devalue the reputation of Christian education.

So this Free School feels it appropriate to not only indoctrinate non-christian children, but discriminate against non-christian teachers. Has the school turned its back on belief in creationism and an intention to teach it? Interestingly this link leads to a Word document which outlines the School’s policy on creationism. (There doesn’t appear to be a direct link to this policy from the School’s website, so one might suspect that the link has been deleted to try and hide the document. But it was still on their server on 20th July 2012 – though maybe it will be deleted – see update at the bottom of this post). In that document the school’s former anti-science policy is laid bare:

We are therefore very happy to believe that God could have created the world in six days. But we do not feel that it is helpful to affirm it as an unarguable fact.

We do not believe that the very plain evidence supporting a lengthy process of evolution needs to be challenged by Christians.

However, we vigorously challenge the unscientific certainty often claimed by scientists surrounding the so-called “Big Bang” and origins generally.

We believe that no scientific theory provides – or ever will provide – a satisfactory explanation of origins, i.e. why the world appeared, and how nothing became something in the first place.

We will teach evolution as an established scientific principle, as far as it goes.

We will teach creation as a scientific theory and we will always affirm very clearly our position as Christians, i.e. that Christians believe that God’s creation of the world is not just a theory but a fact with eternal consequences for our planet and for every person who has ever lived on it.

We will affirm that to believe in God’s creation of the world is an entirely respectable position scientifically and rationally.

I’ve emphasised in bold some of the text which in my view correspond to the kind of rhetoric spouted by Young Earth Creationists. In my experience there is little correspondence between the strong religious belief held by creationists and honesty. I am aware that the BHA has posted an update to their blog article, in which the Grindon Hall Christian School repeat their assertion they will not teach creationism. But like the BHA, I find their assurances rather hollow, particularly in light of the classic creationist newspeak emboldened above in that document. I would be interested to know why that document, written by Rachel Nurse (who appears to be a school administrator) in 2007 still lingers on their web server.

Will Michael Gove now admit he may well have been hoodwinked by some creationists?

Updated 24/7/12: The school appears to have deleted the incriminating file from their server. Never mind, I have a copy.

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The BHA reports that a creationist group have had their bid to open a free school has been approved. (Creationists approved to open Free School in 2013)

A group of creationists has gained approval from the Department for Education (DfE) to open a Free School from 2013. The group are behind the plans for Exemplar – Newark Business Academy, a revised bid from the same people who proposed Everyday Champion’s Academy last year. Everyday Champion’s Academy, which was formally backed by Everyday Champions Church, was explicitly rejected due to concerns surrounding the teaching of creationism. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed deep concern at the Government choosing to fund a creationist group.

This is a shameful decision by the Government, and one supposes that Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, is motivated more by his ideological drive to remove education from local authority control than in any genuine interest in educational quality. The BHA further comments:

In January the group decided to bid again, this time for Exemplar Academy and without the formal backing of the church. However, the website for the new Academy was initially part of the Everyday Champions Church website; and the plans were launched at Everyday Champions Church, being described as a ‘resubmission’ of the previous bid. The group commented that ‘The school will be run on Christian values and we are proud of that. There is a huge difference between Christian values and Christian theology, which is why the original bid was turned down.’

Visit the BHA article for a comprehensive set of links. I guess we should not be surprised that a politician with a distinct prediliction for faith-based education, and who organised a vanity project to send out unsolicited copies of the bible to schools would take a lax approach to approval of even the more dubious faith-related projects.

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Courtesey of the BHA, I see that evolution is to be added to the primary curriculum! (BHA welcomes plans to add evolution to primary curriculum):

Evolution is to be included in the primary curriculum, it has today been announced. The Department for Education (DfE) has published its draft primary National Curriculum for science, which includes the teaching of evolution from year four (age 8-9). The British Humanist Association (BHA) spearheaded the‘Teach evolution, not creationism’ campaign calling for just this change, and is delighted at the news.

Hurrah!

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The British Humanist Association has a useful overview of recent bids for faith-based Free Schools (Creationist Free School bids rejected before interview as other ‘faith’ schools advance to interviews). The article seems fairly upbeat about the failure of several bids from groups clearly planning to teach creationism as an alternative to scientific reality. 

Bids to set up creationist Free Schools have been rejected by the Department for Education (DfE). In particular, the DfE have turned down a high-profile bid from Sheffield Christian Free School, which would have been affiliated to the Christian Schools’ Trust (CST) network of largely creationist private schools. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the news; however, at least 15 other proposals to open ‘faith’ schools in 2013 have advanced to the interview stage.

The fate of several specific bids for creationist Free Schools is summarised in the article:

I share the BHA’s concern about the general tendency for diverse and factional religiously motivated Free School proposals to be made. I also have a worry about school bids with a focus on barmpottery (as David Colquhoun puts it) suchas the three Steiner schools which have progressed in the application process. 

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That hotbed of UK Intelligent Design creationism and Discovery Institute wannabees, the Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) has been sending out publicity for another meeting at which Intelligent Design creationism will feature. C4ID Director Dr Alastair Noble enthusiastically writes:

I write to draw your attention to a fascinating conference on Design in Nature being organised by the Philosophy of Religion section of the Tyndale Fellowship in Cambridge.

Here is the doctrinal position of the Tyndale Fellowship Philosophy of Religion Section- very focussed on christianity – as is their Mission Statement. It is reportedly an academic society associated with Tyndale House, a residential biblical study centre in Cambridge.

Stephen Meyer and Steve Fuller will present aspects of Intelligent Design and the other speakers will explore some philosophical implications of the Design Argument. Details of the day and of the talks can be found at  www.tyndalephilosophy.org.uk/events. Information about booking is also available there.

Part of the background to this conference is the C4ID Inaugural Lecture given in London last November by Stephen Meyer which stimulated Tyndale Philosophy to follow up that event with a day conference to explore some key philosophical implications of the ancient question of Design in Nature and the re-emergence of Intelligent Design.

I wonder what’s meant by the re-emergence of Intelligent Design? Maybe that refers to a resurgence of ID twaddle in the UK and the establishment of C4ID, after the Kitzmiller case saw a pretty definitive slap-down for ID creationism in the USA back in 2005.

This will be a significant day conference, dealing with contemporary and controversial issues. I would urge you to attend.

In addition to Stephen Meyer and Steve Fuller, two other speakers are taking part, Stephen Clark (Emeritus Professor, Liverpool) and David Glass (University of Ulster). None of the four speakers appear to be biologists, which is about par for the course for this sort of event (though when I read the email, I wondered if the conference organisers were mounting their own version of Project Steve!).  This seems to be another of these events intent on convincing participants that there is any kind of controversy about evolution.  Other than in their own little world, of course – biologists just continue on their merry way working within the context of evolutionary biology and for the most part ignore these peripheral and generally religiously motivated voices arguing for a celestial designer.

Alastair Noble rounds off his email with another exhortation to buy the entirely risible pseudo-textbook “Explore Evolution”:

P.S. There is probably no other book on the market like Explore Evolution!  Click here to view a full-colour summary of  the book which will help you make up your own mind, from the scientific evidence, about the adequacy of Darwinism to explain the development and complexity of life.

Noble is probably correct when he says “There is probably no other book on the market like Explore Evolution!“, and for that we really ought to be grateful. You may recall that Explore Evolution was previously distributed by the very oddly and inaccurately named Truth in Science. There is a brief review of this short book by the BCSE, a lengthier deconstruction by the NCSE, and a review in the academic journal Evolution & Development. Suffice it to say, Explore Evolution is a deeply deceptive and dishonest treatment of the subject.  For Alastair Noble to peddle this misinformation is a poor show, and particularly so when he targets it at school students (as he has done in recent emails). Remember, he has a past (and possibly current) role as Education Officer with CARE – the Contact Us page for CARE in Scotland lists Alastair Noble as Education Officer.

Returning to the C4ID publicised meeting, it seems to have developed from the Meyer lecture back in November last year, which has attracted the attention of the Tyndale Fellowship.  It’s interesting to note that it’s to be held at the Tyndale Fellowship Philosophy of Religion Section (see links to their doctrinal position above).  Not bad for a supposedly scientific alternative to the rigorously investigated and experimentally supported science of Evolutionary Biology.

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