Fears over faith split fuelled by free school proposals

Yorkshire's exam performance falls below the rest of the country
Yorkshire's exam performance falls below the rest of the country
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CAMPAIGNERS have warned the Government’s free school programme could add to religious and racial segregation in the region’s cities after plans to create Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish schools, and a failed bid by a Christian group to teach creationism to pupils were put forward.

Concerns have also been raised that another planned free school in Yorkshire is part of an education movement which is based on “pseudoscience” teachings – a claim strongly rejected by those involved.

The Yorkshire Post can reveal that there have been at least eight faith groups or religious private schools in the region interested in joining the free school movement since the flagship policy was launched by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Among the latest proposals to emerge is a co-educational Islamic primary in west Halifax.

The Department for Education (DfE) is holding interviews this week with groups planning to open free schools in 2013. with decisions expected later this summer.

A plan to create a new state-funded Christian School which would have taught creationism to 1,000 pupils in ten small “family school” bases dotted around Sheffield has been rejected.

However the rejection letter to the proposed Sheffield Christian School does not cite its creationist curriculum as one of the reasons.

The plan had been developed by the existing private Bethany School. On the proposed school’s website it confirms creationism would be taught. It says: “Christianity has a clear and distinctive creation story which is relevant to all areas of the curriculum. We know that ‘some people think differently’ so we will be sure to give full weight to other views of the origins and purposes of life.

“Our science curriculum will be broad and well-balanced, looking at the assumptions, evidence and interpretations behind scientific theories. Michael Gove’s view that ‘teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact’ will be taken into account.”

Bethany School’s head teacher, Ken Walze, told the Yorkshire Post that believing the creation story was a faith position rather than scientific theory. He said he did not believe the school’s approach was at odds with Mr Gove’s view.

A DfE spokeswoman would not confirm the Sheffield Christian School plan had been rejected but added: “The Government is clear that creationism or intelligent design should not form part of any science curriculum or be taught as a scientific alternative to accepted scientific theories. We expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum.”

She said the DfE assessed curriculum plans and would not sign off on schools where it had concerns.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the decision not to approve the Sheffield Christian School plan but warned that as least 15 other faith-based proposals had made it to the DfE’s interview stage nationally.

The organisation claims that if these are successful it could add to segregation or lead to pupils being taught a “skewed” curriculum.

The BHA also objects to the planned Steiner Academy Leeds, which is having a DfE interview this week. It claims Steiner schools’ curriculum is based on the “pseudoscience” teachings of Rudolf Steiner.

The association’s campaigns manager, Richy Thompson, described Steiner’s theory as a “prescription for individual spiritual advancement through karma and reincarnation”.

He also voiced concern that Steiner schools would use a “Steiner Waldorf” curriculum which he said contained sections which would breach Government rules on teaching theories which are “contrary to scientific explanations” such as rejecting the “pump model” in explaining how the heart works.

Jonne Warmingham of the Leeds Steiner group rejected this. He said: “The Steiner Academy Leeds has submitted an extensive and detailed curriculum plan to the DfE for appropriate scrutiny and this will form the basis for science teaching in the academy.

“It will equip our students to understand the natural world, to retain a lifelong interest in science and, for those so inclined, to advance to a scientific career.”

Other proposals in Leeds include a Sikh free school and a Jewish free school which has been put forward by the Jewish Brodetsky Primary in the city. The school’s head, Jeremy Dunford, said it would not add to segregation in the city as pupils currently go to a Jewish high school in Manchester.

There are also plans for a Sikh ethos school in Leeds. Calderdale Council said a group is planning an Islamic primary school in Halifax. Gugsy Ahmed, head of Parkinson Lane primary in Halifax, said he had heard the proposed school was to be known as the Sunni Centre.

The private Barnsley and Bradford Christian Schools, the muslim New Horizon School in Leeds and the SDA Church in Leeds have all expressed interest in opening free schools.