Fundamentalist Christian private schools threaten legal challenge to Ofsted after damning inspection reports

“For those of us who survived an ACE education, the only question is why Ofsted has turned a blind eye to these schools’ failings for so long”

Christian schools using the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum claim that Ofsted is discriminating against them. On October 19, Ofsted visited ten ACE schools, finding that nine were inadequate or requiring improvement. Two have since closed. In an article titled ‘Watchdog is picking on us, say Christian schools’, the Sunday Times reports that the schools are seeking advice from the Christian Legal Centre about a judicial review.

The Sunday Times reporting on this issue does not include a single critical opinion about the schools apart from that of the Ofsted reports, which are mentioned but not quoted. Readers will not know, then, that in June this year, according to the Independent, a number of former ACE students blew the whistle on homophobia, sexism, and creationism in their schools. They will not know that in September, several more spoke out about exorcisms, being pressured into young marriages, and historical physical abuse.

Readers will also be unaware that in November, Vice released a recording of a staff member at an ACE school saying that students could be taken to weekend retreats where evil spirits would be cast out of them. She gave this information in response to a journalist posing as the parent of a gay child, who asked what the school could do to ‘help’.

ACE materials have defended apartheid in South Africa and claimed that the Loch Ness monster (a) exists and (b) disproves evolution. Ofsted has criticised some of the schools for failing to promote ‘British values’, and on the available evidence this criticism is well justified.

While the slightly jingoistic language of ‘British values’ is unfortunate, the values themselves are not controversial: democracy, individual liberty, rule of law, mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. It is the law that schools promote all these values, and ACE schools do not. Contrary to the schools’ protestations, this is the opposite of discrimination. It represents Ofsted applying the independent schools standards to conservative Christian schools as it has been to Muslim and Jewish schools for some time.

The Christian schools’ argument is not even coherent. On the one hand, they argue that Ofsted is discriminating against them. On the other, as one headmaster put it, ‘I think they have done it to show they will do it to everyone and not just the Muslims’. The substance of the schools’ complaint, then, appears to be that Ofsted is discriminating against them by treating them the same as other faith schools.

Andrea Williams of the Christian Legal Centre told the Sunday Times ‘These schools produce children who are kind, tolerant, interesting and go on to do good jobs. Most of all, they are happy’. This assertion without evidence is contradicted by writers for Faith Schoolers Anonymous, like myself, who have talked about the trauma and guilt they still live with as a result of ACE.

ACE schools have existed in the UK since 1979, and the curriculum and ethos have changed little in the intervening decades. For those of us who survived an ACE education, the only question is why Ofsted has turned a blind eye to these schools’ failings for so long.

Jonny Scaramanga blogs at Leaving Fundamentalism.

Deliver us from evil: ‘gay deliverance’ in an English Christian school

“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.”

Accelerated_Christian_Education logoYou may not have heard of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), and you may even be unaware more generally of the existence of a number of schools in the UK that teach their children a fundamentalist, isolationist, and homophobic Christian ideology of one kind or another.

ACE originated in America in the 70s, but there are now over thirty schools using the ACE curriculum in the UK and Ireland under the umbrella group Christian Education Europe, and it is also used by a not insignificant number of parents who home-school their children. Needless to say, all of these schools are private, and are thus only subject to Ofsted’s less-discerning eye, the one it uses to ignore the things that would likely result in investigations and press headlines if they were found to be taking place in state-funded schools. Indeed, to read inspection reports of ACE schools is to wonder why the inspectors turn up at all, and this is especially true when it comes to the schools’ teaching about same-sex relationships and the LGBT community.

One report we’ve seen, freely available for all to see, notes uncritically, ‘Pupils are taught that same-sex relationships are sinful’ before limply adding that pupils are nonetheless ‘supported to consider and accept that not everyone within the wider society will agree’.

It’s no wonder then that former pupils of these schools feel let down. Campaigner and former ACE pupil, David Waldock, said: ‘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.’  

But if what appeared in that Ofsted report represents the dialled-down, family-friendly version of the homophobia that ACE schools foist on their pupils, reserved only for when an inspector is watching, one shudders at the thought of what is said on the topic behind closed-doors, when only God is watching. Unfortunately, we now know.

Posing as a Christian parent of a gay son, journalist Martin Williams called an ACE school to say he was moving to the area and wanted to know if they could help a boy ‘overcome’ his homosexuality. The response was alarmingly accommodating.

After some initial chit chat about the ethos of the school and its approach to same-sex relationships, during which time the teacher expressed her apparent incredulity that ‘the curriculum in the states [state schools] is very focussed on the alternative family, which means that you can have gay parents and it’s absolutely fine!’, the conversation turned to what the inspectors wouldn’t have seen:

Journalist: Do you – as a school or as a church – do you do deliverance at all? I mean, in terms of helping people get through things like…’

Teacher:‘We do. But we don’t do it here in school. If there is a need for that then I would say that the family needs to make an appointment with the pastors and do it outside school hours. I’m not against it, I believe in it, it’s just that we have to be sensitive because obviously we wouldn’t want a deliverance going on in a room and then have Ofsted walk in! [Laughs] That would be a bit awkward to explain.’

It would indeed. She went on:

Teacher:‘When something arises and there’s a need to [do] deliverance, a special prayer, I will take the children out of the building. Obviously parents will always know about this. I’ll take them into the church’s premises and they’ll be prayed for over there instead of having it done in the school premises. It’s just because we need to be aware that it’s, because we have children from Seven Day Adventist especially, they don’t practise this side of things, so we have to be sensitive towards that as well. So if they was to say anything, we don’t want the school to be under the focus of Ofsted for doing anything like that.’

In other words, the sensitivity required when performing a ‘deliverance’ on a gay child is reserved here for the Seven Day Adventists who, despite stating on their official website that ‘homosexuality is a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world’, apparently draw the line at the ‘pray the gay away’ approach.

At this stage, it’s worth explaining what deliverance is. In strictly definitional terms, the word means ‘the action of being rescued or set free’, but in this context, it’s more accurate to describe it as the expulsion or casting out of demons or evil spirits, which is the terminology most regularly used when describing the work of so-called ‘Deliverance Ministries’. In common parlance, notwithstanding those who split hairs over the distinction, the word exorcism about sums it up. Unsurprisingly, deliverance ministries are far more commonplace in America than they are in the UK, but even here, finding places that openly offer this service is just a simple Google search away. The relationship they seem to have with certain schools, however, is not something they advertise. If they haven’t already, both Ofsted and the Department for Education must look into this immediately.

2016-05-13-lw-v1-ace-memeBut if this shocks you – and I would hope it does at least a little bit – then you are clearly unfamiliar with what is in the ‘workbooks’ used by ACE schools, known as Packets of Accelerated Christian Education or PACEs. One snippet from a PACE we were shown states ‘it is as unreasonable to say that homosexuality is normal as it is to say that murder or stealing is normal’, and, as if by this stage the level of fear or repression is not high enough, the book also reminds pupils that ‘in Old Testament times, God commanded that homosexuals be put to death’.

It is clear, then, that these views are by no means those of just a few schools or a few teachers. Indeed, this is a message that comes from the top. In an article from 2014, the founder of Christian Education Europe Arthur Roderick bemoaned ‘the imposition of “equality concepts” that require children to accept various alternative lifestyles that dishonour the God who made us’.

In spite of the woolly response of Ofsted inspectors to such open displays of homophobic teaching, or indeed the unabashed honesty of the workbooks on this score, this is almost certainly illegal. Whilst the Equality Act 2010, which affords faith schools a whole host of freedoms to wilfully discriminate on the grounds of their religion, states that nothing contained within the school curriculum itself is subject to its prohibitions, it crucially adds that ‘the way in which the curriculum is taught’ is covered by the Act and schools are obliged to ‘ensure issues are taught in a way which does not subject pupils to discrimination.’

Given that ‘self-instruction’ is at the heart of ACE schools’ pedagogy, as is stated on the ACE website and reflected in the fact that Packets of Accelerated Christian Education are described as ‘worktexts’ or ‘workbooks’, rather than ‘textbooks’, the line between the content of the curriculum and its delivery is more than just blurred in ACE schools, they are, in effect, one and the same. To be clear, this leaves pupils like David Waldock in the unthinkable position of having to teach themselves that what they are is evil and perverse, of having to sit in silence and compare themselves to murderers and thieves.

Extract from a Packet of Accelerated Christian Education (PACE)
Extract on homosexuality from a Packet of Accelerated Christian Education (PACE)

So though it’s no less devastating, it isn’t surprising to hear David say ‘I experienced problems with my mental health and self-esteem’, nor to know, as he explained, that ‘the school handbook also referred to homosexuality as an example of immorality which would result in immediate expulsion’, with ‘the curriculum calling it “a perversion of God’s plan”, and strongly linking it to HIV/AIDS’.

Remember, all this is going on in English schools, and the rampant homophobia in these settings is something about which both Ofsted and the Department for Education must at least be aware. More than that, almost all ACE schools are graded as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and reports from inspectors abound with phrases like ‘They clearly know right from wrong’, ‘Pupils’ moral awareness is good’, and even ‘[there is] a genuine aura of tolerance and respect for all’.

Unfortunately, all that we know about these schools tells us that quite the opposite is true. The attitudes they promote foster intolerance in a great many of their pupils, and condemn many others at least to a childhood of anxiety and repression, but very possibly to an entire lifetime of it too. There is simply no place for this in our schools, and it’s long past time that Ofsted recognised this.

FSA team

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A dictatorship which does not aim to teach but rather to control

“I had spent years in school and I felt like I knew nothing. I was extremely anti-social with no idea how to make friends. The people I knew, I had known forever, and I was desperate to be free from my cult-like surrounding.”

2016_08_18_lw_v1_fundamentalist_xtian_schoolWith every sentence of writing this I have felt guilty but have come to understand that this feeling is familiar as long as I’m doing anything I know ‘they’ would not like. So, I carry this guilt, and have already decided that if this can save one person from the struggle that I have had to face then it’s worth it.

As someone who attended an Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) school from the ages of 3 – 15 I learned not to question and not to ask questions, because you must be obedient and “obey them that have the rule over you.”

As with most faith schools my parents attended the church which had services held on both days of the weekend. This meant that unless I was ill, I simply attended that building 7 days a week. I had no external life and didn’t know what living was. All I knew was to work as diligently as possible and be completely passive. When I look back on my school life I wonder how I survived.

The majority of ACE schools seem to be linked to churches. Every subject taught is infused with religion and a perception of the way one ought to behave. There was constant segregation between the boys and girls and healthy friendships between the sexes were quickly put a stop to. Mobile phones had to be turned in at the beginning of the day and were returned at the end. There was a lot of unfairness, which was especially evident when you consider that every authority figure had their own children in the school and there was no way they were going to let anyone be better than their kids. If you had talent, it would be hidden. You could get through the workbooks, or PACEs (Packets of Accelerate Christian Education), as long as you were not catching up to their kids. When I did, my literature PACE was taken away.

From 11 years old you were considered a ‘homeschooler’ which meant no more music or art classes.  It was just devotions and PACE work (in your ‘office’ with dividers to ensure you had no contact with the other children) until I was finally able to leave. If it sounds like a prison or is reminiscent of the film Matilda, I also made that connection.

'Offices' in an ACE school
‘Offices’ in an ACE school

Upon leaving, I had no respect for education and found it pointless. I had spent years in school and I felt like I knew nothing. I was extremely anti-social with no idea how to make friends. The people I knew, I had known forever, and I was desperate to be free from my cult-like surrounding. Only I wasn’t able to fly.

To say I had a culture shock when I left and went to college is an understatement. Here I was free to be like other teens, free to socialise, and explore the outside world that I longed to get into. But I struggled to adapt. I soon realised that I was not as incredibly smart as the A-star student that was depicted from my ACE grades. The reason for that is because the ACE curriculum does not actually teach you, you teach yourself. You do not have to learn and all that is required are memorisation skills. You memorise so you can pass the test and then you very quickly forget the rest. My grades had fooled me, my student convention medals had duped me, and nothing I had meant anything in the real world.

“I thought people outside were evil because in my mind if the leaders and teachers are the most righteous and they deliberately crush beautiful potential out of children how much worse must the others be.”

When I dropped out of college my spirit was broken. I had no idea what to do or what I was good at or who I was. I felt disabled in every way and fell into a deep depression. I barely left my house for two years and remember being so low that it was a struggle to say my name if there were more than two people in a room. I only wanted to disappear. The effects couldn’t be denied on one trip when I remember travelling in a car with someone and they unexpectedly  turned down the school road.   I literally climbed into the car boot just in case someone from there was walking by. At this point I knew I was experiencing some type of trauma but I had no idea how to deal with it. I wanted to be fixed. It seemed  there was no cure from the anxiety that would have me on edge constantly because I would need to be prepared just in case the head teacher had an outburst that she would direct towards me.

There was so much public humiliation and slandering of children for such menial and ridiculous things. The whole system of merits and demerits, talking in class, and the dreaded ‘vestry’ that you would be called into if you were in trouble or if they felt like you were developing a mind of your own and they wanted to put a stop to it. This room was mostly used to intimidate and instil fear into children as they were interrogated for periods of time; it also occasionally meant the paddle.

Packet’s of Accelerated Christian Education (PACEs)

The head teacher and pastor genuinely seemed to get a high from breaking children’s spirits.  It was as if your fears and tears recharged their batteries.  The head teacher also thought of herself as one of God’s prophets. There were plenty of occasions where she felt she could predict our futures . For the girls in the room, the prediction was almost always a teen mum. One instance she went around the room inflicting her predictions: ‘do you wanna have a baby at 15’, ‘do you wanna be a shoplifter’, ‘do you wanna grow up and be a rapist’, all whilst reinforcing a message that unless you follow my rules this is how you will end up.

It seems far-fetched and outrageous that this could go on. An Ofsted inspection gave a good report. Of course they would because these people were master manipulators. They knew how to make things appear. Inspectors were given the schoolwork of the teachers’ children. They spoke to the prefects who were all part of the family also.

“To sum up my experience, the ACE curriculum, along with the types of people that seem to gravitate towards it, is a dictatorship which does not aim to teach but rather to control.”

One of the hardest things is how alone you feel. It’s an abuse that is so strategic that it can’t be pinpointed down to one thing. You can try and explain but it is something that you have to have experienced to really understand. I just wanted to avoid people because they would never understand how I felt, or they might be evil. I thought people outside were evil because in my mind if the leaders and teachers are the most righteous and they deliberately crush beautiful potential out of children how much worse must the others be. I grow weary of trying to explain the gaps on my CV – time after I left that was utilised on catching-up and learning things I should have had the opportunity to learn about in school. An interview means questions and that takes me right back to the child in a vestry.

Lost and hopeless seems to be a recurring theme from attending these schools. They are intentional in their propagandist messages (through the comics) that there is only one way to live and that is their way. Submit to their will or be punished and doomed to hell. They use religion as a form of slavery, making it seem that they are directly linked to God and to oppose them makes you anti-Godly.

'Propagandist messages' in an ACE comic strip
‘Propagandist messages’ in an ACE comic strip

With this belief imposed upon you when you’re barely out of nappies you can only imagine how difficult it is to reprogram your mind and reconstruct a puzzle for which there are no pieces. To sum up my experience, the ACE curriculum, along with the types of people that seem to gravitate towards it, is a dictatorship which does not aim to teach but rather to control. The ACE system provides them with a way to legally abuse children and render them useless outside of their school gates.

I have since tried many things to help my recovery, but now realise that I can’t recover. It would mean going back to who I was previously, which was a toddler. Now, I can only try to become the adult I want to be. It’s a daily journey that I take literally one hour at a time, on a learning process that has meant going back to start over in a world that is decades ahead of you.


P.S. To any parents who think this is a good system where their child/children will learn Biblical principles (I understand you wanting your kids to have a firm spiritual foundation if that is your belief), please realise that your child/children do not leave school and immediately enter Heaven’s pearly gates. They will then have a life to live for which they will be gravely unprepared.