Questions over funding for creationist nurseries

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Creationist schools are being funded by the Government to provide free nursery education places, according to the British Humanist Association (BHA), Nursery World can exclusively reveal.

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The BHA said it was 'seriously concerned' that schools that would not be considered acceptable by the Department for Education (DfE) for receipt of state funding are offering free early education places for three-and four-year-olds.

The BHA has pointed out that recent applications to set up free schools by a network of private creationist schools run by Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), including a group of applications from Christian Education Europe (CEE), have been turned down by the Department. The association believes that the same principle should apply to the funding of nursery education.

Head of public affairs Pavan Dhaliwal said, 'It is outrageous that public funding is being spent on nursery places for children at schools that the Government considers too extreme to run state schools. The Government urgently needs to review who this funding is going to.

'To those that would say that it doesn't matter what is taught to children so young, we would respond that education is vital whatever the age of the child.'

The BHA says that by analysing Ofsted reports it has identified at least six schools that are receiving funding and use the ACE curriculum, which holds that the Loch Ness monster disproves evolution and that there is no biological basis for homosexuality.

The curriculum is taught in a network of private schools run by CEE. Content from ACE nursery text books shows that children are taught in science about the days of creation and Adam and Eve.

In the letter to the DfE, the association highlights Carmel Christian School in Bristol, which is run by Carmel Ministries International and is a non-selective independent Christian school in Bristol, taking children from three to 18.

The school's most recent Ofsted report from last November says that currently there are 17 boys and 23 girls on roll. This number includes 17 children in the Early Years Foundation Stage, all of whom receive nursery education funding.

The Ofsted report states, 'The school is run on Christian principles and provides a curriculum with a significant emphasis on Bible teaching. The curriculum is taught through Packets of Accelerated Christian Education (PACEs). The school aims to provide "a Christian education through high standards, care, encouragement and positive relationships."'

The availability of nursery places for threeand four-year-olds is advertised prominently on the home page of the school's website.

Earlier this year, the DfE released information about applications for free school funding in response to Freedom of Information requests by the BHA. The BHA found nine proposals from ACE to set up free schools were rejected by the DfE.

But last year Lord Hill of Oareford, then an education minister, set out the Government's position on creationism in response to a question in the House of Lords.

'We are clear that the teaching of creationism as a valid scientific theory, in science or any other subject, should not occur in any state-funded school, and free schools are specifically prohibited from doing so by virtue of their funding arrangements,' he said.

On these grounds, the BHA argues that schools such as Carmel should also be excluded from nursery education funding. In its response (see box), the DfE says that the school 'complies fully' with the EYFS, as shown in its recent Ofsted report.

'On this basis, the local authority has decided that it is eligible to receive Government funding to deliver early education places,' the DfE reply states.

It adds that if there was 'any evidence that the early education being delivered in any provider was detrimental to the well-being of the children enrolled, the Secretary of State has the power to ask Ofsted to undertake an inspection and Ofsted would take regulatory action if the school is failing to meet the EYFS. No such evidence has been brought to the Secretary of State's attention in the case of the Carmel Christian School.'

When approached for a comment by Nursery World, the principal of Carmel Christian School Jaap van Wyk said, 'Our EYFS programme is about phonics, reading and writing and not about beliefs and doctrine.

'We are Ofsted approved with an outstanding recommendation given at our last inspection. A Christian taxpayer and parent has a right to choose the school they desire and receive the funding allocated to their children in the school of their choice whether it be Christian or secular.'

He added, 'Regarding the free school applications and criteria, this has nothing to do with the EYFS programme. There have been many schools turned down from all faiths and secular schools.'

A DfE spokesperson said, 'We will provide funding for early years facilities in schools that meet clear standards, as set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage. In its 2012 report Ofsted said that Carmel Christian School had met all independent school standards.

'Like all independent schools, it must promote mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.'

EXTRACT FROM THE DFE'S REPLY TO THE BRITISH HUMANIST ASSOCIATION

The Government's general policy on the teaching of creationism in independent schools is that the matter involves important philosophical issues about the right of parents to bring up their children as they see fit.

Provided it is clear to parents, independent schools are free to teach creationism and other types of religious teachings. The content and manner of such teaching must comply with the independent school standards, including the standard on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, which requires schools to promote, among other things, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs, and must not breach any other applicable laws, e.g. by inciting hatred or discriminating against certain groups in society.

You have raised particular concerns about Carmel Christian School and the delivery of Government-funded early education places to 17 children in the early years. The EYFS is the statutory framework that sets the standards that all early years providers must meet to ensure that children learn and develop well and are kept healthy and safe.

The EYFS ensures that children are taught a broad range of knowledge and skills that provide a good foundation for future success at school and through life. You will note that Carmel Christian School teaches the EYFS and is considered by Ofsted to be rated 'good', with 'outstanding' aspects in respect of its early years provision.

Funded early education providers must be fully compliant with the EYFS - as set out in regulations made under section 7 of the Childcare Act 2006. This places a duty on local authorities to secure sufficient early education places for all children aged three and four years of age in England.

Early education providers receive funding to deliver places directly from their local authority and no money is channelled through parents. Central Government encourages local authorities to prioritise this funding to the highest quality early education provision available and to support maximum parental choice by funding all eligible providers that meet the quality requirements.

Carmel Christian School is a registered independent school, which complies fully with the EYFS, as evidenced by its recent Ofsted inspection judgement. On this basis, the local authority has decided that it is eligible to receive Government funding to deliver early education places.

If the Department became aware of any evidence that the early education being delivered in any provider was detrimental to the wellbeing of the children enrolled, the Secretary of State has the power to ask Ofsted to undertake an inspection and Ofsted would take regulatory action if the school is failing to meet the EYFS. No evidence has been brought to the Secretary of State's attention in this case.

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