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Exclusive Brethren Schools in the News

The Exclusive Brethren are back in the news in the UK, over plans to sponsor a school:

An evangelical Christian sect that considers television and computers evil is in talks with the Government about sponsoring a city academy, it became clear last night.

Members of the Exclusive Brethren met Jim Knight, the schools minister, to discuss the possibility of backing one of Tony Blair’s flagship schools.

…Its educational division, the Focus Learning Trust, already runs 37 private schools – which have been highly-praised by Ofsted – even though pupils are denied access to modern technology and sex education is banned.

However:

[Education minister] Lord Adonis said that there were no “current” plans to open state schools linked to the group, but did not rule out the possibility in the future.

In fact, Adonis made this statement back in May, and he also revealed then that the Brethren “has made a number of representations to the Government”, so the Telegraph’s claim that “it became clear last night” is a bit of an over-dramatic flourish. Adonis was responding to questions from Margaret Sharp, a Liberal Democrat peer who appears to be concerned about the Focus Learning Trust.

For those outside the UK, a “city academy” is a publicly-funded but independent school, operating in the state sector. They are often former “failing” schools that have been handed over to private organisations, and children living close to such “academies” will be allocated a place there for their secondary education. Academies are allowed to depart to some extent from the national curriculum, and back in 2004 it was revealed that one school, under the control of an evangelical businessman named Peter Vardy, obliged pupils to carry Bibles around, and had installed a creationist science teacher. Parents of pupils at another school targeted by Vardy for a take-over organised protests, and were backed by Richard Dawkins.

The Brethren’s private Christian schools were profiled in the TES in 2005:

All 38 schools run by an evangelical Christian sect that considers television and computers to be evil have been backed by government inspectors.

The Office for Standards in Education [Ofsted] confirmed this week that it was satisfied that the entire stock of private schools owned by the Exclusive Brethren provided a good standard of education.

…Caroline Horn, head of the Brethren-run Copsewood secondary school, in Coventry, which has 80 pupils, this week welcomed Ofsted’s conclusions.

Neither she nor her 10 teaching staff are members of the sect, but the school has a nine-strong Brethren trust board.

The school teaches the national curriculum, with notable exceptions. There is no sex education or ICT, and fiction that includes references to sex is banned. RE is replaced with Bible studies that make no reference to other faiths and are led by member volunteers.

The Brethren’s Focus Learning Trust (based in Coventry) also has its own inspection service, called the School Inspection Service (SIS), which was approved by the Department for Education and Skills under the terms of the 2002 Education Act. According to a DfES document:

SIS will ensure that it maintains its independence from the member schools and the Focus Learning Trust, (FLT), in accordance with the terms set out in the SIS framework…SIS will inspect all registered schools in England currently affiliated to the Focus Learning Trust…SIS will agree to Ofsted monitoring of samples of SIS inspections and reports and to Ofsted reporting to DfES on a regular basis on the quality of the SIS inspections and reports, in relation to the expectations set out herein and the SIS framework as agreed with DfES…

Ofsted itself adds that:

Ofsted does not inspect those independent schools whose headteachers are in membership of one of the associations which make up the Independent Schools Council (ISC). Neither does it inspect those schools which are owned by the Focus Learning Trust. These schools are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) and the School Inspection Services (SIS) respectively, and we monitor their work to ensure quality and consistency.

Despite the Brethren’s religious objections to the internet, the SIS does have a very plain website, on which there is a 2006 report on Copsewood:

…The curriculum policy outlines the school’s primary and objective concern for the spiritual and moral development of its pupils…It outlines the teaching of science ‘so that all students at Key Stage 3 are given a grounding in physics, chemistry and biology, with the proviso that biology shall be taught sensitively, excluding any reference to evolution of species, which is regarded as false, or to human reproduction which will be taught at home by parents.’

…Analysis of the school’s curriculum at all key stages shows that pupils are provided with appropriate experience and opportunities to learn and to develop their proficiency in languages, mathematics, human and social skills, and physical education.

Some might think that that the first paragraph would appear to negate the claims in the second. A bit of googling shows that two of the three inspectors who compiled the report have also worked for Ofsted itself.

As well as the Brethren schools, there are a number of other private Christian schools in the UK following syllabuses that censor or distort science teaching; some of these have been praised by politicians.

One Response

  1. […] but by the Schools Inspection Service. The SIS inspects only two types of schools: those run by the Exclusive Brethren and now Steiner […]

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