Ofsted alerted over creationist school

Leading scientists yesterday called on Ofsted to reinspect* a state-funded school because evangelical Christian teachers there do not believe in evolution and are undermining the scientific teaching of biology.

The Guardian revealed on Saturday that the headmaster of Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, argues that both evolution and creationism - the belief that the world is only a few thousand years old - are "faith positions". Several teachers have urged other educators to "show the superiority" of creationist ideas.

But Tony Blair yesterday defended the college at prime minister's questions, saying that it was achieving "very good" results. The government has designated Emmanuel a beacon school.

Professor Steve Jones, of University College London, one of the country's best-known geneticists, said he had written to Westminster Education Consultants - which carried out the last inspection for Ofsted in 2001 and gave the school a glowing report - asking them to reinspect its science teaching.

His colleague David Colquhoun, AJ Clark Professor of Pharmacology at UCL, has written to Ofsted asking them to visit Emmanuel again. Richard Dawkins, Oxford University's Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, has also contacted Ofsted, as has Professor Peter Atkins, SmithKline Beecham Fellow and Tutor in Physical Chemistry at Oxford.

The appeal for reinspection is backed by Dr Jenny Tonge, Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond, who yesterday asked the prime minister if he was concerned that staff at a state-funded school were promoting creationism.

Mr Blair sidestepped the question, commenting: "I think it would be very unfortunate if concerns over that were seen to remove the very, very strong incentive to make sure we get as diverse a school system as we properly can.

"In the end, it is a more diverse school system that will deliver better results for our children and if you look at the actual results of the school, I think you will find they are very good."

The Labour MP Paul Flynn said: "Why couldn't he come out and say such teachings should have no part in state education?"

Sir Peter Vardy, the multimillionaire who gave 2m to help found the school and who still chairs its board, said: "Ofsted have only just been in, but if they want to come back we are more than willing to open the school to you or Ofsted to see exactly what we are doing."

Nigel McQuoid, the principal, declined to comment.

Leading philosophers, including Jonathan Ree and Prof David Papineau, have signed a British Humanist Association petition which urges the government to clarify the wording of the national curriculum so that teachers cannot present creationist theories as the scientific equivalent of evolution.

The National Secular Society condemned Mr Blair's comments as "a deplorable acceptance of anti-science by a man who purports to value education"

[The Guardian 14/3/02]


"Estelle Morris, the education secretary, assured Vardy last week that the government did not think Emmanuel College needed to be investigated" [The Times, 17/3/02]

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