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The British Humanist Assosiation has noted that Government changes Academy model funding agreement… but DOESN’T ban creationist schools

The Government yesterday revised the Academy model funding agreement to bring it in line with all the recent changes made to the Free School model funding agreement – except it declined to ban creationist schools. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed dismay at this missed opportunity, and is unsure why the Department for Education (DfE) decided against making this change.

Maybe it’s just an oversight?  But it’s clear that many religious groups which hold creationist views are bidding to run Free Schools (and as I noted earlier are trying to erase evidence of this from the internet).

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The British Humanist Association has some news on the latest tranche of Free Schools.

The headline news is that the Everyday Champions Church bid for a free school appears to have been rejected.  You may recall that the ECC is an avowedly creationist crew, which would not sit well with Michael Gove’s public statements that creationism is not to be taught as science. Indeed, Gove referred to creationism as ‘wackoidal’ in one recent statement.

Of the 55 schools given the go-ahead, 11 have an essentially religious character.  While this is actually rather fewer than anticipated, I would agree with the BHA that is remains an issue:

The 11 ‘faith’ schools include three Anglican schools, a Catholic school, three other Christian schools, a Jewish school, a Sikh school, a Hindu school and a Muslim school. Additionally, Frome Steiner Academy, a second state-funded Steiner school, is due to open. Steiner schools are not formally designated with a religious character, but still have complete control over their own curriculum.

The BHA also says:

One of the schools that progressed to interview stage, but has now been rejected, is Everyday Champions Academy, proposed by Everyday Champions Church. In February, church leader Pastor Gareth Morgan stated that ‘Creationism will be taught as the belief of the leadership of the school. It will not be taught exclusively in the sciences, for example. At the same time, evolution will be taught as a theory.’

I don’t know what the grounds for refusing the ECC bid for a Free School, but that statement from the church leader must have rung alarm bells up and down the corridors of power.  On the other hand, David Colquhoun (the well-known campaigner against teaching quack medicine and other non-science in Universities) has posted a set of three articles outlining why he believes Rudolf Steiner education to be ‘mystical barmpottery’ (The true nature of Steiner (Waldorf) education. Mystical barmpottery at taxpayers’ expense).

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The BCSE announces on their blog (Close that loophole Mr. Gove) that a letter from CrISIS has today been delivered to Michael Gove at the Department for Education formally asking him to close the loophole that allows creationists into state funded schools to present Creationism to our children as a valid scientific fact.

If you haven’t done so yet – please sign the petition.

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The British Centre for Science Education has posted an excellent blog article (British Centre for Science Education: Creationism in the Deep South (of England)) reviewing the background to a disturbing incident at St Peter’s Church of England Aided School in Exeter.

A whole year group of year 11 children are brought together and have a man introduced to them as a scientist. He talks to them for one and a half hours about his views on what he says is a very controversial area of science. In fact he thinks the world is just six thousand years old and that the world’s scientists are biased against him and his scientific colleagues simply because they are against Christianity.  He is able to promote his web site to the kids, a web site full of more misleading nonsense claims.

This individual was Philip Bell of Creation Ministries International.  The story has received coverage in a local paper (This is Exeter: Anger after controversial creationist is invited to talk at school): the comments are quite interesting, and worth a read (in particular, the comments reveal something of the workings of those of a creationist bent).

In an era where religious schools appear to be on the ascendant in the UK, I think it behooves those in charge of our children’s education to take care that religious schools don’t permit teaching creationism as a valid ‘scientific’ alternative to evolution.  This is particularly important as the present Government’s ideological drives lead it to further deregulation of schools (such as the desire for Academies and Free Schools to be less subject to the National Curriculum).

A particularly worrying development was the response of the Head Teacher of St Peter’s Church of England Aided School, who responded to the parent’s letters of concern in which she requested her children from worship (which I understand is her right as a parent) with the following worrying statement:

You should be aware that I, having a duty of care to both of your children, shall be monitoring your actions and their consequences for the children with regard to such matters very carefully indeed.

The Head Teacher seems to be aware of his duty of care to the children attending his school.  What’s less satisfactory is that he appears to be expressing this as what could be construed as a threat, and not in a way that would protect children from fundamentalist and literalist biblical interpretations (billed as science) which not only fly in the face of science, but also contradict the Church of England’s position.

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The British Humanist Association notes the alarming speed at which secondary schools in England are transferring to Academy status (Expansion of Academies Programme Continues Apace Despite Lack of Safeguards).

The Department of Education has announced that 1 in 6 secondary schools in England have now converted to Academy status (547), a large jump from January this year when the BHA reported that 1 in 10 English secondary schools were now Academies.This week, a report in the Economist magazine predicted that this could be as many as 1 in 4 schools within the year.

From the atheist’s perspective, this is indeed alarming for two reasons.

Firstly the absurd situation in which state funds are used to pay for religiously motivated schools.  This leads to difficulties for those who don’t share the two main christian faiths.  Furthermore, situations in which more extreme evangelicals seem to be able to insinuate their dotty beliefs into the mainstream can arise, particularly where discussion of origins and evolution are concerned.  One recent case involves a Church of England school in Exeter, which has become embroiled in controversy after inviting a creationist, Philip Bell, to discuss creationism (and, indeed, it sounds as though it was presented as scientific fact).

Secondly, that Academies are exempt from the National Curriculum which, if it serves any purpose, must be aimed at minimum educational standards.  As the BHA say:

Academies are able to opt out of the National Curriculum potentially leaving students attending some ‘faith’ Academies at risk of being taught that there is scientific validity to creationist myths in science lessons and of not being provided with basic sex and relationship education. ‘Faith’ academies with a religious character are able to discriminate against students from families that are of the ‘wrong’ or no religion in at least 50% of their places.

Why are Academies exempt from the National Curriculum?  The potential for serious damage to the UK educational system is really rather serious.

 

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If you're not religious, say so in the 2011 UK census!

The British Humanist Association has been campaigning for UK citizens to accurately respond to the census question on religion.

Why should I answer the question at all? Well, this is a personal thing and I wouldn’t pressurise people into any specific answer or none.  But census data get used for all sorts of policy decisions, among them the role of religion in our everyday lives.  What tends to happen is that people confuse the cultural heritage with religious beliefs they do not hold to.

Why does it matter? The BHA has prepared a concise summary of how the 2001 census data on religious belief were used (or misused may be closer to reality.  We should not be logging ourselves as Jedi Knights as some kind or prank.  We should not say we are christian if we not longer practice the faith.  We should be upfront and truthful about our religious faith.

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The return of the Conservative Party to government in the UK, albeit in coalition form, has brought with it the possibility (some would say threat) of considerable social change.  Germane to the subject of this blog is the impact the coalition plans to wreak on education.  Those of us in higher education are acutely aware of the impact of the Government’s drive to contain the budget deficit (whether or not one considers the strategy to be driven principally by ideological and not fiscal grounds).  The Government also plans changes to the delivery of school level education, perhaps less driven by economics and more by ideology.

In rapid policy shift reminiscent of a party of school kids let loose in a sweet shop, the Rt. Hon Michael Gove has begun the implementation of a Free School policy that risks the unwise establishment of schools barely controlled by the national curriculum and potentially driven by religious and other ideology.

The British Centre for Science Education (also see their forum and blog), of which I am a committee member, has written to Mr Gove (Michael Gove, Free Schools, Everyday Champions Academy and Creationism) to raise the issue of religion-driven agenda, particularly as it relates to the teaching of biblical creationism as an alternative to evolution.  The BCSE’s letter is accompanied by a memorandum citing evidence pertaining to a number of cases, including the Everyday Champions Church proposal for a free school.  Rather than merely restate the text here, visit the link above, and in particular review the memorandum attached to the letter.

[Also worth reading is James Gray’s excellent article for The New Humanist magazine: Free to teach creationism?]

It is essential for all those with an interest in science education (not just biology, as all science education is threatened by such bad education) to be vigilant against incursions of old religious world view into science education.  We need to be vigilant especially as Government policy seeks to discard political responsibility for governance in such ‘local’ matters and hand over control to local groups.

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Insipid responses on Intelligent Design creationism from the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning and  Learning and Teaching Scotland

The excellent 21st Floor launched a campaign (Fake ID) against the potential intrusion of creationism  and its intelligent design variant into Scottish Schools, following the establishment of the Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) in Glasgow.  In a recent newspaper article (Would you Adam and Eve it? Top scientists tell Scottish pupils: the Bible is true), the Director of C4ID was quoted as saying a move to push ID into Scottish Schools was inevitable:

“We are definitely not targeting schools, but that doesn’t mean to say we may not produce resources that go to schools,” Dr Noble said, adding that he had already been asked to speak in Scottish schools, and agreed to do so.

The FakeID campaign realised that Scottish Schools weren’t protected from the intrusion of creationism in the same way as schools in England and Wales, and made enquiries as to current policy in respect of this. They received a less than satisfactory response from Learning and Teaching Scotland (Fake ID – Response from Learning & Teaching Scotland), and no response from the the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell.

Learning and Teaching Scotland are the body tasked with ensuring educational standards.  As they proudly proclaim on their website:

Learning and Teaching Scotland is the principal curriculum body for Scotland, supporting the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence, Assessment, Community and Lifelong learning and the innovative use of Glow and other learning technologies.

Their response to 21st Floor’s inquiry is therefore disappointing.  What’s a little more encouraging is that 21st Floor’s activity has been noted in the Scottish Parliament (official report 10th November 2010).  Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) of the Green Party:

The place of a scientific world view is generally agreed by all, yet that fundamental world view is under attack.

I congratulate the bloggers of “The Twenty-first Floor” for drawing attention to the fact that, recently, an organisation called the Centre for Intelligent Design opened in Glasgow. The group’s director is quoted in The Herald as saying that

“it was ‘inevitable’ that the debate would make its way into schools”

and

“that he had already been asked to speak in Scottish schools, and agreed to do so.”

In the same article, a Scottish Government spokesman is quoted as stating only that

“we do not recognise the teaching of intelligent design in a scientific context”.

In their responses, neither the Government nor Learning and Teaching Scotland give any indication that they have in place measures to prevent that material from entering schools.

It is some 85 years since the Scopes monkey trial in the US. In that country, the politics of wilful stupidity and ignorance have a modern vehicle in the tea party movement. We must not allow those kinds of ideas to gain a foothold in this country. There is a clear need for ministers to go further than they have gone so far and to tell us—I hope that the minister will do so today—how they intend to prevent the use in schools of materials of that sort, which promote the absurd nonsense of intelligent design and creationism, with the intention of undermining the scientific world view and keeping our children stupid. [Applause.]

Michael Russell does make a response:

[…] I say to Patrick Harvie that I can and will distinguish between belief and scientific fact; that is absolutely what I should do. However, I will not be a censor or forbid people from holding opinions or beliefs. I recognise where the lines lie, but I felt that Patrick Harvie moved rather far towards condemning people for their beliefs. I am clear that belief is not to be confused with scientific fact—

Here he’s interrupted briefly by Patrick Harvie who unsuccessfully wishes to speak.  It’s a shame, because Russell’s being rather hopeless here.  Opinions and beliefs have no place in the science class.

Still 21st Floor are to be congratulated in at least getting this into Holyrood.  Perhaps it will run…

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According to the Irish Times (Minister withdraws from launch of anti-evolution book – The Irish Times – Tue, Sep 14, 2010), Conor Lenihan, the Irish Minister for Science will not be launching the anti-evolution book “The Origin of Specious Nonsense”.  This book has a website – but beware, on my notebook, it seemed to set the processor racing – presumably the over-enthusiastic application of graphics. Certainly the site uses copious amounts of Flash.

It does seem to be the usual stuff.  A self-educated author embraces religion, and none of his background really suggests he has beene exposed to any training or education in science.  The website includes some quotes from the book, which conists mostly of the usual creationist canards.  I wonder if Mr Lenihan took the time to look at the website (or even the book itself) before agreeing to the now-cancelled book launch.

Judging from the book website, I would suggest that having a Science Minister associated with it in any way would raise questions about the Minister’s fitness for that office.  But, hey, this is another country’s government, and the UK also seems to specialise win Government Ministers with no special qualifications for the job!

I looked up Conor Lenihan on Wikipedia.  Seems like an interesting guy with a record of public pronouncements seemingly at odds with his political roles.  Take for example, the article’s section Attitude to Immigrants (Mr Lenihan was Minister of State for Integration Policy from June 2007 to April 2009).

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A petition was raised at the UK Government’s petition site regarding the upcoming Papal visit to these shores – a response from the Government (presumably the new Cleggeron-led affair): HM Government. The petition was filed by Peter Tatchell:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to disassociate the British government from the Pope’s intolerant views ahead of the Papal visit to Britain in September 2010. We urge the Prime Minister to make it clear that his government disagrees with the Pope’s opposition to women’s reproductive rights, gay equality, embryonic stem cell research and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. We ask the Prime Minister to express his disagreement with the Pope’s role in the cover-up of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy, his rehabilitation of the Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, and his decree paving the way for the beatification and sainthood of the war-time Pope, Pius XII, who stands accused of failing to speak out against the Holocaust. We also request the Prime Minister to assure us that the Pope’s visit will not be financed by the British taxpayer.

As seems to be usual in the responses to such petitions, the HMG reply isn’t very forthcoming:

Pope Benedict XVI will visit the UK from 16 to 19 September at the invitation of Her Majesty The Queen. The visit is described as a Papal Visit with the status of a State Visit. The programme will include a number of pastoral events, which are the responsibility of the Catholic Church, as well as some significant official events, which will provide opportunities for issues of common interest to the UK Government and the Holy See to be discussed at the highest level.

The Holy See has a global reach and so is a valuable international partner for the UK Government. Our relationship with the Holy See enables us to address jointly a range of foreign policy and development issues. These include working towards delivery of the Millennium Development Goals, addressing the impacts of climate change, preventing and resolving conflict, and finding ways to encourage disarmament.

As with any bilateral diplomatic relationship, there are issues on which we disagree. The Holy See is clear on our positions on these issues. However, we believe that Pope Benedict’s visit will provide an opportunity to strengthen and build on our relationship with the Holy See in areas where we share interests and goals, and to discuss those issues on which our positions differ.

Since the visit has the status of a State Visit, and some parts of the programme are being organised by the British Government, a proportion of the costs of the Visit will fall to the Government. The costs can be divided into two categories: policing costs, which will be met by the State from existing policing budgets, and non-policing costs, which will be split between the Catholic Church and the Government. The total size of the costs at this stage is not confirmed but discussions are currently under way to decide the appropriate levels of contribution from the Government and the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of England and Wales, and of Scotland. Other parts of the programme, such as the Masses and other pastoral events, are the responsibility of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences. The direct costs of these events will therefore be borne by the Catholic Church.

None of this really addresses the request to dissociate the Government from Pope’s “intolerant views”.  It would seem that being the leader of a major and established cult empowers one to hold divisive and discriminatory views, and to express them widely.
Will the pointless HMG petition site survive the the Cleggeron onslaught of Government spending?  And why not get rid of it – I’ve never seen a response that indicates the Government takes on board any views expressed.  (The same might be said of the the Cleggeron Government’s website for citizens to suggest legislation for repeal). 

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