A UK-wide network of independent Christian schools, approved by Ofsted inspectors, are teaching children that same-sex relationships are sinful.
At least 27 schools in Britain use the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) syllabus, which is originally from Texas. It teaches pupils that evolutionary science is a lie and homosexuality is immoral.
However, Ofsted inspectors have praised ACE schools, saying pupils' moral, social and cultural development was "outstanding". Reports describe one school as a "fully inclusive community" and say the ACE syllabus is "a good curriculum". Another report notes that "pupils are taught that same-sex relationships are sinful but are equally supported to consider and accept that not everyone within the wider society will agree". The report rates the school "good" for pupil welfare.
This week's VICE UK Podcast features an interview with a former ACE student, and discusses issues around homophobia in schools.
Because they are independent, these schools don't have to stick to the same strict regulations that normal state schools must adhere to. Ofsted only marks them on the most basic fundamentals, such evidence of effective education, personal development and child welfare.
In a phone call to one of the schools, a teacher offered to arrange "deliverances" to save pupils from the Devil. The practice is roughly equivalent to exorcisms. Asked if the school itself performs them, the teacher said: "We do, but we don't do it here in school [...] We have to be sensitive because obviously we wouldn't want a deliverance going on in a room and then have Ofsted walk in. That would be a bit awkward to explain."
She explained: "Sometimes we'll have spiritual retreats for youth, for teens. These will be done over a period of three days on the weekend. We do it in a hotel in Bournemouth and all these things are going on there – deliverance and all these kinds of things."
On this call I posed as a Christian father, to see how teachers would deal with a gay student. The calls were made in 2014, but have not been revealed until now.
The same teacher said she "can imagine it's very difficult" for a Christian father to have a gay son, and appeared to suggest it was unclear if a gay pupil would even be allowed to join the school. "I wouldn't say we wouldn't take him, but I think our pastors would like to sit down and see where you are as a family," she said. "Always, when we have a sensitive case, it's always best to take it to pastors and they would make the final decision."
She suggested that the uncertainty was because of concerns over commitment to faith, rather than specifically because of being gay. "It's not that we wouldn't take him because he's said this," she claimed. "You can't discipline a child for what he feels in his heart."
However, she suggested a gay child may need to have counselling before joining the school: "We do have the pastors that offer pastoral care for the children as well when it's needed... it's something that you might want to look into."
Previous reports have highlighted homophobic teachings in the ACE syllabus. One textbook says: "The Bible teaches that homosexuality is sin. In Old Testament times, God commanded that homosexuals be put to death. Since God never commanded death for normal or acceptable actions, it is as unreasonable to say that homosexuality is normal as it is to say that murder or stealing is normal."
Former ACE pupil, David Waldock, told VICE: "It leaves me angry that I and other LGBT students are being failed, not only by ACE's bigoted curriculum, but also by the inspectors who are supposed to ensure the quality and equality of our education. Although I knew what homosexuality was, its presentation as a 'sinful choice' meant I didn't see it as relevant as I wasn't choosing to be a homosexual. As a result, not only did I not get an appropriate sex education, which put me at risk, I also experienced problems with my mental health and self-esteem."
Separately, in a previous on-record interview, a teacher from another ACE school admitted its approach to homosexuality was "a massively controversial hot potato".
"We have a Biblical perspective of what is defined as sin," he said. "Homosexuality is one of those things we believe is wrong, according to the word of God." But, he added, "We wouldn't teach that homosexuality, per se, is wrong: we would teach that sexual immorality is wrong. People often pick out on homosexuality, but the stance would be the same for sex before marriage. If the question of homosexuality comes up, then yes, as Christians, as believers, we believe that homosexuality is wrong."
The teacher also said his school taught Creationism under the ACE syllabus, claiming that evolutionary science was just a belief system. "We believe that creation, as it stands within the Bible, is what actually happened," he said. "I teach on creation and evolution, and I'm not a scientist, and I'm not a specialist, but I've done a lot of research. People say to me: 'What happened to the dinosaur?' My contention would be that the dragons – or the dinosaurs – haven't vanished. Just look at a crocodile. We just got used to them – we don't call them dinosaurs any more."
VICE contacted Ofsted, the Department for Education, the school quoted from undercover recordings and Christian Education Europe, which provides the ACE curriculum. None of them responded to our requests for comment.
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