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interviewed on "Today" - BBC Radio 4 - 28 April 2003

Ed Stourton: Remember the school in Gateshead which became the centre of the ruckus last year because it teaches creationism in the classroom? The organisation that runs it, the Vardy Foundation, is considering plans to expand its portfolio of schools in the north of England to seven. It set off alarm bells among those who consider that teaching creationism alongside evolution is a danger.Richard Dawkins is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.

Richard Dawkins: I'd like to quote John Burn, who is the chief education adviser of the Vardy Foundation, writing jointly with Nigel McQuoid, the headmaster of the notorious Gateshead school. They said "We agree that schools should teach evolution as a theory and faith position. Both creation and evolution provide ways of explaining the past that are beyond direct scientific examination and verification." Now, to call evolution a faith position equated with creationism is educational debauchery. It is teaching something which ios utter nonsense. Evolution is supported by mountains of scientific evidence. These children are being deliberately and wantonly misled.

ES: That was Richard Dawkins. The businessman Sir Peter Vardy, head of the Vardy Foundation, is on the line now. Good morning. Sir Peter Vardy: Good morning.

ES: So next I think is Middlesbrough, where you are going to open a school this year, then Doncaster, Leeds , Newcastle, Sunderland and Hull will get your schools. Is that right?

PV: Well, Middlesbrough certainly is opening in September and we are talking to other local authorities who are interested in developing schools in their areas.

ES: And to be clear about how it works, you put up 10 [interruption] to 20 per cent of the money, the state puts up the rest but you effectively have control over the way the schools are run.

PV: It's built under the City Academy initiative which is - er, 10 to 20 per cent is supplied by the sponsors and the Government supply the balance.

ES: But critically you direct the way the schools are run and in the case of the Emmanuel School that caused all the fuss last year one of the things the school did, as we said, is to teach creationism alongside evolution in the classroom.

PV: We do teach creationism alongside evolution [interruption] - we present both - one is a theory, the other is a faith position and it's up to the children. We give them an all-round education, so both are presented to the students and we think that is fair education

ES: Well, you heard what Richard Dawkins had to say about that - think ‘educational debauchery' was the phrase he used.

PV: Well, he does get very wound up about it.

ES: Yeah, but you wouldn't find many people who'd say that the two theories of the way that the world was created or came into being were of equal worth - I mean, they are quite different kinds of things, aren't they, and you are presenting them as the same kind of thing?

PV: No - we are presenting them as the two views - that some people hold the faith position of creation and others believe in evolution.

ES: You are very publicly a Christian. Is this a sort of mission of yours, to spread the word through the north of England through these schools?

PV: No, the mission is to improve the state of education in our region. It is only unfortunate that this one subject has hijacked the very good work that Emmanuel College is doing.

ES: Well, I mean, it's a very importnat thing, isn't it, and as I understand it you are going to have the same philosophy in all the other schools that you found if your plan goes ahead?

PV: Well, there are millions of people in this country that believe in creation -

ES: So you are, just to confirm that, you do see this operation of opening more schools as a way of spreading this word more widely?

PV: It's a way of improving the levels of education for our young people in inner city areas and Emmanuel College has done exactly that - it's got a very clean bill of health by Ofsted, it's had the best report that Ofsted have ever written, so that they are obviously - have a very balanced view of what we're doing.

ES: Bt also spreadingt his particular way of looking at evolution?

PV: Well, we are presenting evolution and creation alongsiude each other.

ES: Sir Peter, thanks very much indeed.


TODAY - BBC Radio 4 - 28 April 2003