Grindon Hall Christian School is about to gain final approval from the Government to open this September as a Free School, the school have announced. The news comes as Principal Chris Gray has increasingly gone on the attack against accusations that the school supports teaching creationism as a valid scientific theory – often leading him to make statements at odds with the evidence – and as further evidence has been uncovered surrounding the school’s connections to creationist groups. This includes that the Chairman of Governors of the School is John Burn, chief academic advisor to the Emmanual Schools Foundation during those schools’ creationist controversies and persistent advocate of schools teaching creationism as science. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has again expressed concern at the progress of the school towards opening.
Last week, the BHA revealed that the school had on its website a ‘Creation Policy’. This policy states support for both creationism and evolution as valid science, and that both should be taught as such. On the one hand, the policy states that
‘We do not share the rigid creationist’s insistence on a literalistic interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis… We are therefore very happy to believe that God could have created the world in six days. But we do not feel that it is helpful to affirm it as an unarguable fact. We do not believe that the very plain evidence supporting a lengthy process of evolution needs to be challenged by Christians.’
However, the policy also states that
‘We believe that God, as sovereign Lord of the universe, is capable of creating the world in a few 24-hour days… We will teach evolution as an established scientific principle, as far as it goes.
We will teach creation as a scientific theory… We will affirm that to believe in God’s creation of the world is an entirely respectable position scientifically and rationally.’
After the story broke, Chris Gray told The Guardian the school would no longer teach creationism in science, but said that such teaching was appropriate in RE and assemblies, and that they wanted children to question the origins of the Universe (emphasis added):
‘First of all, it’s illegal. Secondly, we were questioned at length about it when we were interviewed to be a free school, and that was to the [Department for Education]’s satisfaction. A number of schools have been sadly turned down on that. That document is from a time when we were not as clear as we are now about the proper distinction as to what is taught in a science lesson and what might be taught in assembly – two different spheres.
‘If children question for themselves their origins, that’s what we want them to do – to ask sensible, responsible questions. Am I here by accident, or – dare I use the word – design?’
Yesterday, Mr Gray moved further away from his previous statements on the matter, telling the Sunderland Echo:
‘The fact is in 28 years we have never taught creationism, we won’t teach it now and we will not teach it in the future. It’s not a policy of ours. When we applied to the Government to become a free school they made sure of that and what The Guardian has done is find a very old document that we took off the website in 2005. And it was first written to distance ourselves from the issue of creationism. I don’t believe in creationism, none of my staff believe in it and so I’m hoping this will blow over.’
However, the document was obtained by the BHA from Grindon Hall’s website and was available from there until a couple of days ago. It was still being actively linked to from the main site as current policy at least as recently as May 2009. In addition, the document properties show it was only first created on 23 January 2007.
Chairman of Governors John Burn
Furthermore, the Chairman of Governors of the school is John Burn. Mr Burn is also a former headmaster of Emmanuel College, Gateshead, before becoming chief academic advisor to the Emmanuel Schools Federation, owned by Peter Vardy; he was at the centre of controversy in the early 2000s over those schools allegedly teaching creationism in science. Mr Burn is also a founder and Chairman of the Christian Institute, and author of its education policy which states that:
‘There are those who argue that Science and Christianity can be harmoniously reconciled and that no significant tension remains. We cannot subscribe to this view. It seems to us that attempts to reconcile evolutionary theory with the Biblical account of creation strain and distort scripture and that they introduce a symbolic reading of Genesis which cannot logically deny the symbolic reading of the Virgin Birth, physical Resurrection of Christ or the Second Coming.’
Mr Burn also caused controversy in 2002 when he urged creationists to join school governing bodies in order to influence schools’ scientific teaching. Mr Burn is also a Director of Durham Free School, another Christian Free School backed by the Government to open in September 2013.
The Christian Institute was at the centre of its own controversy this year, when a Free School proposed by a Church with links to the Institute, Jesmond Parish Church, progressed to interview. Until last week, Grindon Hall promoted Jesmond’s sermons through its site.
School moving towards final approval
Meanwhile, the School has progressed towards gaining final approval to open from central Government. On Monday, the school’s site was updated to say
‘Excellent news! We have been informed today that we can now offer conditional places with immediate effect. We will get letters out by tomorrow (Tuesday). The officers will be subject to the actual signing of the funding agreement but the school and the Department for Education are working very hard to get that completed within a few days… This is a real step forward – thank you for all your patience during what I know has been a frustrating period for us all. I am grateful too for the hard work of DfE officials who have pushed for a decision on this and whose work is now beginning to pay off.’
On Tuesday, the site was further updated to add
‘Many will have worked out from that what I failed to point out yesterday: we have at long last gained Treasury approval, and that is a huge step forward. We hope to sign the funding agreement very soon, and then we will immediately confirm all offers made.’
Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs commented, ‘It is becoming increasingly clear that Grindon Hall’s denials of its having taught creationism as science are at odds with the evidence, and it is remarkable how much it is possible to observe the school’s position shift over the past week.
‘At the same time, it is deeply concerning that the school is progressing towards final approval. We have serious concerns that approval of this school will lead to a repeat of the controversies seen around the Emmanuel Schools in the previous decade.’
For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0773 843 5059.
Read Grindon Hall Christian School’s ‘Creation Policy’: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/creation-policy.doc
Read the previous BHA press release, ‘Free School due to open in September 2012 “teaches creation as a scientific theory”’, 17 July 2012: https://humanism.org.uk/news/view/1079
Read the BHA briefing on groups teaching creationism in schools: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/bha-briefing-creationist-groups-approved-to-run-free-schools.pdf
Read the Sunderland Echo article by Tom White, ‘Headteacher blasts claims his city school teaches creationism’, 24 July 2012: http://www.sunderlandecho.com/news/local/all-news/headteacher-blasts-claims-his-city-school-teaches-creationism-1-4767968
In 2011, the BHA came together with 30 leading scientists and educators and four other organisations to launch ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ Read the statement from scientists including Sir David Attenborough, Professor Richard Dawkins and Professor Michael Reiss, and organisations including the BHA, the Association for Science Education, the British Science Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering and Ekklesia: http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/
View the BHA-backed Government e-petition on the same subject: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1617
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on countering creationism: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/countering-creationism
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.