So has creation been banned from UK schools? Certainly, the news agencies, including Christian news sites, seem to think so. Well, the truth of the situation is a little more complicated than has been stated.
Don't get me wrong; I am not about to deny that teaching about creation has been banned from UK schools. It has. But this did not happen this week. It has been the case for a long time. The news is not new. All that is new is a new set of documents underlining the current position.
The “ban”, such as it is, applies to government schools. In the US, these would be referred to as “public schools”, but in the UK, for historical reasons, the term “public schools” refers to the old elite fee-paying schools, like Eton College (alma mater for Prince William and Prince Harry). I have often noted that some people in the US get confused between the terms UK and England. England is not the entire country – just the largest of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom. However, this news item applies just to England.
England has a National Curriculum, which governs what material should be taught in each government school subject. The three core subjects are Math, English and Science. When the Science National Curriculum was introduced in the early 1990s, it included an interesting phrase, that students should be taught about scientific controversies, and gave as an example the controversy over Darwinian evolution. This was a good statement, and, as I was a school teacher at the time, I knew atheist colleagues who were completely happy with this statement.
In 1997, the incoming Labour government, under Tony Blair, decided to revise the National Curriculum. Under pressure from atheist groups, they included the compulsion to teach evolution as scientific fact. So the “ban” on teaching creation has been in place for over 15 years.
So, what is new? In 2010, the incoming Conservative / Liberal Democrat Coalition pledged to introduce what they called “free schools”. Obviously, nothing is free. but the concept of these schools was that the schools would be independently financed and operated, but student places would be paid for by normal taxation, so that parents would not be paying any extra fees for their children to attend. The government initially stated that the sponsoring organizations for such schools could include charities, such as churches. This led some Christian schools to get the mistaken belief that they could simply adopt free school status and carry on teaching as they always had. This was always going to be incorrect. He who pays the piper calls the tune. It was soon clear that these independent schools within the state sector would have to abide by the National Curriculum. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has repeatedly reaffirmed this point.
So, this week's new documents simply reaffirm what is already the case. For Christian schools to teach creation, they cannot come under the state education system; they must be fully fee-paying schools. But too many churches in England have failed to see the value of such educational provision, so that fee-paying independent Christian schools tend to be small and under-financed.
So, why the fuss this week? A cynical commentator might suggest that the “news” bolsters Gove's street-cred, in a month where public disagreements over immigration have arisen between Gove and his senior colleague, Home Secretary Theresa May. Gove clearly came out worse in that public spat, and needed something to boost his position, as both he and May see themselves as potential successors as Conservative Party leader to David Cameron, if, as expected, cameron loses next year's election.
In my opinion, the mistake that Christians made was not to understand that education should never really be the provision of the state. It is the responsibility of the parent. It is noteworthy that the home schooling sector in the UK as a whole is currently growing. It is ironic that, unlike the US, this home schooling sector is largely secular, rather than Christian. My anecdotal experience is that Christians, churches and pastors in the UK have simply failed to understand the biblical position of education, and have a false expectation that they will be able to get the secular authorities to sanction their teaching of biblical principles. It is time for Christians, churches and pastors in the UK to get their acts together, and start to think independently and biblically. They must stop expecting governments to follow biblical principles on their behalf.