Grindon Hall founders resign

Via the BCSE Forums.

Report from Schoolsweek 2nd October 2016

Founders of Christian faith school resign after secular takeover

The founders of a Christian-ethos free school have resigned as trustees, citing anger at the government’s “lack of protection” for the institution’s religious character.
Elizabeth Gray and John Burn have stepped away from the Grindon Hall Christian school in Sunderland as a lengthy takeover by the Bright Tribe academy trust nears its conclusion.

The pair say they had no choice but to resign because Grindon Hall, which Gray founded as an independent school nearly 30 years ago, before it converted into a free school in 2012, will lose its Christian ethos.

Burn, a former headteacher and member of the National Curriculum Council, told Schools Week: “Bright Tribe is not a Christian body, it’s a secular body, and it’s ridiculous to expect a secular body to manage a Christian school.”

He said the school did not have the same government protection given to those that formally belonged to the Church of England or Catholic church.

“The Anglican schools are protected,” Burn said. “We’re a non-denominational Christian school, and we think we should be in the same position as the Anglican and Roman Catholic schools.”

More media coverage of Durham Free School (updated 6/3/15)

The Independent reports (Durham Free School: ‘Creationism taught at’ free school facing closure) that not only did they teach creationism (see Doomed Durham Free School taught Intelligent Design Creationism and Durham Free School creationism), but that:

The school, which has already been ordered to close by the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has been accused of harbouring “prejudiced views” of children from other faiths that went unchallenged by teachers.

I suppose this is not unconnected with handing control of teaching children to a group advocating a particular religious bent.

Jonny Scaramanga’s blog article about the teacher involved in this episode of teaching creationism (State-funded school in Durham, England employed a creationist science teacher) is well worth reading.

Update 6/3/15 – Jonny Scaramanga has been doing a bit of digging and finds links between Durham Free School and a network of schools in the North East that seem to have a bit of a track record in teaching creationism. (What happens when creationism sneaks into a UK classroom?). Worth reading.

Durham Free School creationism

Jonny Scaramanga has delved into the teaching of creationism in the Durham Free School – State-funded school in Durham, England employed a creationist science teacher – (which I blogged about yesterday – Doomed Durham Free School taught Intelligent Design Creationism).

Jonny has uncovered what looks like a track record of creationist activity by the science teacher responsible for that lamentable worksheet of creationist tosh.


Doomed Durham Free School taught Intelligent Design Creationism

From The Darlington and Stockton Times, Brainwashed: Christian school taught Intelligent Design as fact

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan controversially withdrew Government funding for the Durham Free School after a damning Ofsted report last month.

Last night the school was at the centre of another controversy – that it taught creationism as a scientifically valid subject in direct contravention of Government rules.

The Government has banned schools from teaching creationism – that the universe originated from specific acts of divine creation – as evidence-based theory.

However, a science worksheet obtained by The Northern Echo said: “Only Earth has life on it. God has designed the Solar System so that Earth can support life.”

Teaching creationism as scientific fact would place the Durham City school in breach of the law and its funding agreement.

The story turns up in the Northern Echo, too (I imagine these papers are related – it seems the story originated in the Northern Echo). Both websites have a photograph of the offending worksheet, within the slideshow of glum looking kids and protesting parents.

Nice to see the Government taking the prohibition of teaching creationism as science seriously. It is, however, something of a pity that the Conservative Party have an ideological approach to education that can allow schools to end up in the pocket of those who teach this stuff. In this case the Durham Free School claims it is something of a one-off problem, but even so it does perhaps suggest something wrong in the school’s governance.

The Durham Free School’s website is mounting something of a fightback. But I did spot this:

The School offers a high quality education in a caring, Christian environment in which each pupil is known, valued and encouraged to achieve his or her individual potential. We are committed to outstanding academic performance and to fostering a love of learning in our students.

When I see statements like that, I do wonder about the people in the catchment area who aren’t Christian (or the “wrong type” of Christian). I don’t think for a minute that the “Christian environment” doesn’t have a connection with the teaching of Intelligent Design creationism.

Scottish creationism petition progresses

Paul Braterman outlines progress of the Scottish Secular Society’s Petition relating the teaching of creationism as a valid scientific alternative to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.

This morning, the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament held its third and final hearing on the Scottish Secular Society’s Petition PE01530. The meeting is archived here, and a transcript will be available in about a week here.

Read more at Paul’s blog (included updates to the press coverage): Creationism in Scotland; our petition makes progress. Paul’s coverage is very detailed, and gives one grounds for optimism. The upshot is that the petition will be forwarded to the Education and Culture Committee, despite the best efforts of the petition’s opponents to misrepresent its aims.


Young Earth Creationism can’t be disproved? Really?

In Scottish Parliament  Motion S4M-12149, John Mason MSP makes a somewhat surprising assertion:

Motion S4M-12149: John Mason, Glasgow Shettleston, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 23/01/2015

Creationism and Evolution

That the Parliament notes that South Lanarkshire Council has issued guidance concerning the appointment and input of chaplains and religious organisations in schools; understands that some people believe that God created the world in six days, some people believe that God created the world over a longer period of time and some people believe that the world came about without anyone creating it; considers that none of these positions can be proved or disproved by science and all are valid beliefs for people to hold, and further considers that children in Scotland’s schools should be aware of all of these different belief systems.

I guess this is in response to South Lanarkshire Council’s admirably clear position on preventing undue evangelical influence on its schoolchildren (see Reining in creationists; South Lanarkshire, repenting past mistakes, leads the way). But really, Mr Mason? Do you genuinely think that Young Earth Creationism cannot be demonstrated to be inconsistent with geological and biological evidence?

If Mr Mason is taking this odd position, would he be able to clarify which deity he’s talking about? Presumably various people believe any one of a variety of deities did the creation bit. For my part, I see no evidence that supports the existence of the supernatural and prefer an evidence-based explanation (which does of course include the admission that there are many things about which we don’t yet have an answer).

According to Wikipedia, John Mason studied Accountancy at University, and is a Baptist.

Update –

More at The Herald: Christian MSP: science can’t disprove Earth created in six days

Paul Braterman – Roll over Nessie – dinosaur alive and well in Scottish Parliament


Creationism in Scottish Schools

It’s been a while since my last posting here (I blame pressure of work). That was prompted by one of the Centre for Intelligent Design’s periodic email newsletters. Sadly these newsletters tend to be issued just when I’m unable to draft a blog response! Howver, another of these newsletters plopped into my mailbox yesterday.

It’s rather hard to know where to start with the latest missive from Glasgow’s very own creationists, the Discotute wannabees the Centre for Intelligent Design. Seeing as how the C4ID tries its hardest to push a similar creationist agenda as the Discotute (and continues to try to pass off Intelligent Design creationism as science), they are of course upset at the Scottish Secular Society’s petition asking the Scottish Parliament to prohibit the teaching of creationism as science. Contradicting to some claims made by the more religiously motivated, nowhere  does the petition seek to prohibit the teaching of creationism. For more on why Intelligent Design is just another form of creationism, one can have a peek at the Wikipedia page.

In their latest email newsletter entitled “Government to impose Scientism on our children” (sadly I can’t find this on their website), Alastair Noble has penned a silly screed of creationist tosh that repeats a lot of rubbish ultimately emanating from the likes of of the Discovery Institute. In between grumping about supposed scientism being pushed out through Scottish schools, Dr Noble displays a rather neat line in ignoring evidence.

In addition, scientism flies in the face of reality.  Mind, consciousness[3: a reference to a book by Nagel] and the information carried in the DNA[4:  a reference to Meyer’s Signature in the Cell] of all living things point to immaterial realities which are not explicable by purely natural processes.  Scientism will not allow you to infer from phenomena such as these that the universe has an intelligent cause, but, creed-like, insists on the highly improbable and counter-intuitive conclusions that universes come into existence out of nothing and that life emerges by blind, purposeless forces. 


All this is done in the name of preventing religious extremism invading science lessons, which is not a problem in Scotland as far as I am aware.  It requires that any suggestion of ‘creation’ or ‘intelligent design’ be outlawed.  These two propositions are not the same of course – for example, intelligent design does not depend on religious texts but argues from scientific data – but that’s an inconvenient truth which is simply ignored by the secular zealots.  Curiously, in attempting to combat perceived religious extremism, the Government is adopting an equally extreme and quasi-religious position with regard to science education which flies in the face of the understanding of science we have inherited over five centuries of scientific endeavour. (my emphasis)

Actually, and aside from his silly claim that ID creationism argues from scientific data (rather, it abuses scientific data: see this and this), the evidence suggests that we should be concerned about creationism being presented as scientific fact (Open Letter to Mike Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning; TES: Schools are being infiltrated by cults, say secularists), and Dr Noble has been quoted as saying:

“We don’t have specific resources for schools, although there is one text available examining the case for and against neo-Darwinism that we can make available to high schools and colleges, if they wish to have it,” said Noble, an education officer with CARE, an agency that campaigns for Christian perspectives across a range of public policy issues. (my emphasis)

It’s not clear to me how anyone (other than perhaps those with a religious-creationist agenda) might consider that ensuring that non-scientific subjects not be taught in science lessons could be regarded as scientism. Indeed, the petition that’s annoyed Noble so much explicitly does not seek to ban creationism from schools. In a blog article (Creationism petition Scotland; press coverage to date; your help still needed), Paul Braterman refers to C4ID’s latest message along with recent press coverage of the petition. Of the C4ID newsletter email, he says:

21 Nov, The Centre for Intelligent design warns those on its mailing list: Government to impose Scientism on our children (no link available). So now you know. The Centre regards evolution science and the study of the age of the Earth as forms of Scientism, whatever that may be.

Here’s what Paul has to say about recent coverage in the Herald:

Herald  November 21, reports on Ken Cunningham, Secretary of School Leaders Scotland, and his submission in response to a request for comment from the Petitions Committee.  My comment: Not Head Teachers; one ex-Head [in consultation, he later claimed, with the Association’s presidential team, whoever they may be] speaking for all his members with no further apparent mandate from his Association’s membership. And Cunningham and Noble [Director of the Centre for Intelligent Design, whose plans to promulgate creationism are a major matter of concern to us] are not as reported both members of the Free Church of Scotland; they are Elders (Cunningham also Secretary) of the same small independent Church, Cartsbridge in Busby, with a total membership of around 250; a much closer association.

A rather interesting set of connections. One might also observe that C4ID’s main figures all seem to lean towards the more evangelical kinds of church. I think Paul is adding updates to his blog on the subject of the petition and the media response.

News from the C4ID

After some months of silence, I received a message from Alastair Noble, Director of the UK’s very own Discotute wannabees, the Glasgow-based Centre for Intelligent Design. It’s the usual mish-mashed rehash of Discotute allegations of discrimination against Intelligent Design creationism with the usual claims that Intelligent Design isn’t creationism but really science.

Indeed, Alastair begins by decrying a statement made on BBC TV by the presenter Kirsty Wark (that teaching creationism is illegal) – by linking to this archived page dating from 2007 (under the previous Government). This is interesting, because one section at the document there contains this (my emphasis):

Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science.  However, there is a real difference between teaching ‘x’ and teaching about ‘x’.  Any questions about creationism and intelligent design which arise in science lessons, for example as a result of media coverage, could provide the opportunity to explain or explore why they are not considered to be scientific theories and, in the right context, why evolution is considered to be a scientific theory.

That isn’t really what Dr Noble seems to claim is the take-home message from that document. Indeed, current guidance dating from 2011 reinforces this (in the context of Free Schools):

Are Free Schools permitted to teach creationism/intelligent design and obliged to teach evolution?

We would expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum.
We do not expect creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas to be taught as valid scientific theories in any state funded school.

Of course, Dr Noble cannot write about these matters without banging on about his claim that Intelligent Design creationism is really science (which is in contrast to, for example, the outcome of the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial in the USA). He writes:

However, ‘Intelligent design’ (ID) brings a very different perspective. It argues that certain features of the natural and living worlds show clear evidence of design and are not the result of a blind and purposeless process like natural selection acting on random mutations. ID does not draw on religious authority or presuppositions but argues from empirical data like the ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe, the specified complexity of biological ‘machines’ and the massive sophistication of the digital genetic code carried in DNA – which, interestingly, former US president Bill Clinton once described as ‘the language in which God created life’ [2]. ID implies, clearly, an intelligent cause for the universe and is therefore supportive of theism. It should not, however, be equated with ‘creationism’ as popularly understood. In our view, ID is a legitimate scientific inference from the available data and is consistent with our everyday experience of the cause and effect structure of the world.

He’s always keen to distance Intelligent Design creationism from other types of creationism, such as Young Earth Creationism (the sort of nonsense that is presently keeping observers of Bryan College amused). Trouble is, Intelligent Design is just creationism dressed up as science with the aim of creeping into American schools by pretending not to be religion.

Sadly for Alastair Noble, the history of Intelligent Design creationism makes it clear what it is – one just has to read the founding document, The Wedge Strategy. Here’s the text, conveniently hosted at the NCSE website. It includes this priceless gem:

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

Oh, and this:

Governing Goals

To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.

To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.

Dr Noble carries on:

The greatest affront to scientific method in the matter of origins is the refusal even to consider an intelligent cause for the universe when the evidence in that direction is compelling.  And just consider the questions science cannot credibly answer: where did anything come from; how did life arise; what is the origin of genetic information; and how does mind and consciousness arise? To dismiss out-of-hand the possibility of an intelligent cause when confronted with these realities is not science but dogma.

The problem for Dr Noble (aside from the fact that the evidence for design in the natural world is far from compelling) is the failure to identify the creator designer, or his/her/its methods. As far as I know, physicists and cosmologists have satisfactory answers for the origins of the universe (though I, personally don’t); I know biologists and chemists have a variety of hypotheses for the origin of life; I personally have experience of seeing genetic information appear in the lab; and finally, why should mind and consciousness be anything other that a product of natural processes?

It still remains for ID creationists to identify their creator designer, and how exactly he/she/it managed all that design. That would, I imagine, be rather more satisfying for Dr Noble and colleagues than their incessant failed attempts to find things they claim can’t have an rational explanation in evolutionary biology. And, yes, there are undoubtedly things which scientists still strive to understand and to explain, but this doesn’t mean we should rush into the arms of a creator designer. What predictions does Intelligent Design creationism make? What programme of research do the Discotute droids actually pursue? RationalWiki has a rather good page on Intelligent Design creationism, and the section on Scientific Evaluation of Intelligent Design creationism is very good.

The icing on the cake is the inclusion of that most discredited example of ‘irreducible complexity’, the bacterial flagellum, though figure is just window dressing as there’s no reference to it in the email. Here’s a paper proposing how the scientific investigation of the evolution of the bacterial flagellum (subscription required) might be conducted. Here’s an accessible article from Kenneth Miller’s web page, and an article at New Scientist. A truly scientific approach is so much more satisfying that just surrendering and saying the creator designer must have done it.

Creationist Zoo Gains an Educational Award

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.

Alice Roberts vs. the Christian Schools’ Trust and creationism

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.


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’.”