Top school's creationists preach value of biblical story over evolution
State-funded secondary teachers do not accept findings of Darwin
Guardian Saturday March 9, 2002
Fundamentalist Christians who do not believe in evolution have taken control of a state-funded secondary school in England. In a development which will astonish many British parents, creationist teachers at the city technology college in Gateshead are undermining the scientific teaching of biology in favour of persuading pupils of the literal truth of the Bible. Emmanuel College - set up by the Tories - is designated a beacon school by the Labour government and its backers are sponsoring a city academy to be built in nearby Middlesbrough.
City technology colleges are technically independent schools but charge no fees because they are funded by the government as well as the private sector. City academies are similar although local education authorities have to agree to their creation.
The school is hosting a creationist conference this weekend and senior staff have given a series of lectures at the college urging teachers to promote biblical fundamentalism and giving tips on techniques to make pupils doubt the theory of evolution.
The creationist lobby has become increasingly notorious in the US, but until recently it has been relatively weak in Europe. The Anglican and Catholic hierarchies have accepted evolution as a fact, with the Pope saying it was "more than just a hypothesis."
Under the national curriculum, schools must teach evolution but are not banned from teaching creationism as well. That leaves Emmanuel's teachers free to present evolution merely as a "theory" no different from the idea that the world was made in six days.
Nigel McQuoid, the school's head, told us it was "fascist" to say that schools should not consider creationist theories.
Mr McQuoid and his predecessor John Burn wrote in an article in 1997: "To teach children that they are nothing more than developed mutations who evolved from something akin to a monkey and that death is the end of everything is hardly going to engender within them a sense of purpose, self-worth and self-respect."
Emmanuel is a non-denominational Christian school which achieves consistently outstanding academic results and received a glowing Ofsted report last year.
It was built with £2m of sponsorship from Sir Peter Vardy, the multimillionaire entrepreneur behind the Reg Vardy car dealerships, who remains chairman of the college's board of directors.
Another of Emmanuel's directors is Baroness Cox, the Conservative peer who in 1988 sponsored amendments to the education reform bill stating that religious education in state schools should be "in the main Christian". Sir Peter, an evangelical Christian, has donated a further £2m via his charitable Vardy Foundation to build a city academy in nearby Middlesbrough, due to open in 2003, and has offered to fund five more. Mr McQuoid and Mr Burn, the Vardy Foundation's chief education adviser, are helping to set it up, as no head has yet been appointed.
Mr Burn is one of the founders of the Newcastle-based Christian Institute, set up in 1991 to promote fundamentalist Christian beliefs. It now boasts 12 full-time employees, 10,000 supporters and according to its accounts it earned £500,000 last year, all in donations.
Other founding members of the institute include the Rev David Holloway, vicar at Jesmond parish church in Newcastle and the Rev George Curry, who presides at two churches in the inner city area of Elswick and chairs the council of the Church Society, the leading evangelist body in the Church of England. Both men are traditionalists and outspoken opponents of the ordination of women.
Mr Holloway is also a founder member of Reform, an evangelical pressure group within the Church of England, and in the 1980s proposed that bishops should face a "heresy test".
The Christian Institute has no formal links to the school, but senior members of staff have published papers on education on the organisation's website.
In a lecture co-authored by Mr Burn and Mr McQuoid, they observe: "Clearly schools are required to teach evolutionary theory. We agree that they should teach evolution as a theory and faith position... Clearly also schools should teach the creation theory as literally depicted in Genesis. Ultimately, both creation and evolution are faith positions."
Mr McQuoid stresses that the school teaches alternatives to the Christian faith, discussing other religions and even atheism, and says that he wants his pupils to learn to make up their own minds.
He said: "A group of folk have contacted the press saying it's not legitimate to have a school consider the scientific case for creation. I think that's fascist.
"The evolution/creation debate is all about to what extent the scientific evidence is there to support or undermine the other view... I don't think [evolution] is as proven as the world being round."
In a lecture given at the college last year, to an adult audience, the vice-principal, Gary Wiecek, commented: "As Christian teachers it is essential that we are able to counter the anti-creationist position... It must be our duty as Christian teachers to counter these false doctrines with well-founded insights."
In another talk, Paul Yeulett, senior assessment co-ordinator and maths teacher, says that evolutionists have "a faith which is blind and vain by comparison with the faith of the Christian... A Christian teacher of biology will not (or should not) regard the theory of evolution as axiomatic, but will oppose it while teaching it alongside creation."
The star speaker at today's conference at Emmanuel is Ken Ham, president of the Answers in Genesis international ministry, whose lectures include Evolution: The Anti-God Religion of Death.
Mr McQuoid said the school had hired itself to Answers in Genesis as a venue; the conference was not a school event.
Sir Peter, who was knighted last year, left school at 16 with one O-level, but transformed his father's business from a single outlet to a network of 80 dealerships around the country. But he chooses to draw an annual salary of £120,000 and distribute the entire annual dividend from his private shareholding to educational and children's causes via the Vardy Foundation. He said: "All we are saying is that it's up to children to make their own minds up. I haven't had any complaints... The parents are happy, the students and teachers are happy; we have them standing in queues waiting to get in."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "What schools need to do is teach the national curriculum in an impartial way. Personal doctrines should not override anything that should be taught in the curriculum."
A spokesman for Middlesbrough council said: "On the evidence we have, the situation [at Emmanuel] is that evolution is taught there and children are made aware - as we anticipate them being [in Middlesbrough] - of alternative theories."