Christian free school bid runs into protest

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PLANS to launch a Christian free school in Sheffield have triggered opposition from the British Humanist Association.

Bethany School at Netherthorpe is looking to create ten centres across the city, which would combine to create a single free school, run independently but funded by the state.

Last week supporters held a public meeting to gauge parental backing. Humanists have responded by mounting a campaign in opposition.

The BHA recently fought a similar plan in Newark, which was rejected last month because of concerns over creationism, the belief that life was created by a unique act of God.

This week an open letter from the London-based organisation – which employs a campaigner against faith schools – raised similar fears over the Sheffield plan.

But Ken Walze, head of the Bethany School, hit back at the group.

“It is regrettable, when our application contains so many innovative and successful elements, that the Humanist Society is co-ordinating a campaign against one part, of one element, of our legitimate proposal,” he said.

“Humanism, science and education have nothing to fear from the biblical creation account and Sheffield Christian Free School is surprised to be perceived as a significant threat to be vigorously opposed.”

The BHA letter expresses concern at the ‘continuing confidence of creationist groups in applying to open free schools’ and calls on the Government to take firmer steps against them.

It goes on to point out that guest speaker at the recent Sheffield public meeting was prominent creationist Sylvia Baker, that creationism is a key focus at the Bethany School and that the new school admits its curriculum will be ‘broadly based’ on themes in the book of Genesis.

Mr Walze insists the Bethany community is being completely open. “Our school ethos is in the conservative evangelical church tradition. Our families are drawn from many different churches with a range of theological positions and we have families with no church connection who are fully involved with the school.”

He argues that their belief in the Christian account of creation is a faith position – in the same way that the BHA promotes its own beliefs.

“At the SCFS we will explain thoroughly that ‘some people think differently’ and give our pupils tools for world-view analysis. We deliberately include other views in our curriculum, unlike our critics.”

He adds: “Christians have been at the heart of education in Sheffield for hundreds of years… We want to add to their work a new Christian school which will increase choice and extend the educational provision for families within our city.

“We have 25 years’ experience of running a school that parents really appreciate, where children thrive and where teachers can express their enthusiasm and creativity. Our aim is make this sort of school available to many more parents throughout Sheffield and the free school initiative will make this possible.”

The school is running an online survey at www.sheffieldchristianfreeschool.org.uk. A formal proposal will be submitted to the Government in May 2012 with a view to opening in September 2013.