Claims are being made that a number of Christian fundamentalist schools in the United Kingdom are teaching children that creationism is true, gay people are “unnatural,” and that girls must obey men.
Originally from the United States but now making their way into the UK, the schools require students to be taught at individual desks separated by dividers. While little is known about the students who attend these schools, it believed that there are over one thousand children being taught in over a dozen schools, all of which are registered as independent or private schools.
“No one outside the schools knows about what happens inside them, that’s why they’ve been able to go on like this for so long,” a former pupil said.
The schools are based off of an education model by Accelerated Christian Education schools (ACE) that originated in the Southern United States. Each school is thought to enroll between 20 and 60 students ranging in age from four to 18.
Based in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Accelerated Christian Education was founded in 1970 by Dr. Donald Howard. The company produces the biblically literalist Accelerated Christian Education school curriculum. There were over 6,000 students enrolled in the schools located in over 145 countries as of September 2013. The company includes a “statement of faith” in which it claims that the Bible is literally true.
A variety of issues have been raised concerning the schools, including that the students who are enrolled do not leave the school with enough education to gain employment opportunities outside of the church atmosphere, writes Jonny Scaramanga for Patheos. Those who believe this argue that the students do not receive any sort of formal education other than “Christian certificates.”
According to former students, the main belief followed by the schools deals with individualistic self-salvation, requiring an active acceptance of God’s salvation in order to gain entry into heaven.
These students go on to say that children must then teach themselves in order to become closer to God. Therefore, students are required to spend half of the day learning in isolation. This is done by reading textbooks silently while facing a classroom wall in individual “booths” in order to promote individual learning. Children then spend the second half of the day learning in groups, writes Siobhan Fenton for The Independent.
Former student Matthew Pocock said the students were placed at desks lining the outer wall of the classroom with dividers in between them so they could not talk to or interact with other students. In order to get the teachers’ attention, each student received two flags. One flag would be raised for general questions such as for homework help or a bathroom break, while the other was meant to signal readiness to take an exam or that input was needed from a classroom teacher. Pocock said, “If we put our flags up too often we would be told off.”
Students say that such a teaching method created poor education standards, which in turn caused students with learning disabilities, including those with dyslexia, to have issues succeeding in their schoolwork. Many reported feelings of social isolation and problems developing social skills due to the lack of interaction with their peers:
One former pupil said: “By the time I left the school, I hadn’t really learnt anything that was of any relevance. I was taught facts and figures from reading the books, but there was no social learning in terms of interaction.”
In addition, the textbooks used by the schools have been criticized as including inappropriate material on a number of topics, including issues on gay people, women’s rights, and creationism, writes Andrew Copson for The Independent.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “ACE schools, like all other independent schools, are inspected against the new, tougher Independent School Standards, and where there are concerns a school is failing to meet these standards we will not hesitate to take action.”
The Department for Education published a list of schools that receive public money but are not held to LGBT discrimination laws.