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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Inside Britain’s only Scientologist school

“Scratch away at the surface, and this quiet haven in rural East Sussex is not as it seems. Scratch away at the surface, and what you find is Britain’s only Scientologist school”

L. Ron Hubbard – founder of Scientology

A watch of their promotional video and a flick through their literature, your average aspirational parent would jump at the chance to send their child to Greenfields School. A quaint Victorian mansion, perched on the edge of the rural Ashdown forest, it has eleven acres of woodland, boasts academic and extracurricular excellence, and defines itself as a ‘happy, friendly and family-orientated school’. Continuous education is offered from nursery through to sixth form at a reasonable price,  and well below the cost of a place at your average private school. The place is almost too good to be true. The sad truth? It is.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the literature but the school is linked closely with the Church of Scientology and far from broadening the horizons of its students, there are allegations that many of them are groomed by the Church for the secretive and cultish ‘Sea Org’ programme abroad.

In spite of the school’s insistence that it is ‘non-denominational’, testimonies of former pupils, parents, and ex-staff members, reveal the opposite is the case. One ex-staffer, who did not wish to be identified, said:

‘To promote it as an ordinary school with no particular influence from Scientology, I think is a false representation.’

In 1984 a mother pulled her daughter out of Greenfields. Even though she was a scientologist, she spelled out her reasons in a letter to the principal:

‘Although I was aware that the school used certain study methods devised by L. Ron Hubbard, I was not aware that the school was dominated by the Church of Scientology. Had this been made clear by the school authorities in their prospectus and from the outset I would have reconsidered my decision to send my child to such a place.’

In the same year, a member of the board of trustees also resigned. In a letter to the board, Dr Stephen Davies, who was a Scientologist himself, wrote:

‘It is now evident to me that the change in the political climate within the church had direct repercussions on the day to day management of Greenfields School. It also became evident that Greenfields was not acting as a school truly independent of the organising body of the Church of Scientology.’

Greenfields may claim to welcome students ‘of all faiths, cultures andnationalities’ but what exactly that means is open to debate.

L Ron Hubbard, science fiction writer, convicted fraudster, and the founder of Scientology, is mentioned only a few times on the school’s website and in their literature, and never in relation to the Church of Scientology itself. Instead, he is referred to respectfully, and rather misleadingly, as simply an ‘author’ and a ‘humanitarian’. And whilst there is no evidence that the school teaches children about all of the beliefs and doctrines of Scientology (that alien spirits called thetans command our bodies, for instance),  the school’s ethics and morals are based on Hubbard’s 21 moral precepts outlined in The Way to Happiness. Although it is promoted as secular in nature, its critics have described it as  a recruitment tool for the church.

Hubbard is also revered by the school as a great innovator in education. The methods of ‘study technology’ are praised as being the USP of the school, which claims: ‘applied standardly, Study Technology produces remarkable improvements in a student’s ability’. In actual fact, the latest available results show that only 63% of students at Greenfields attained five good GCSES (A*-C), well below the results for the average private school and below the results achieved by the local comprehensive in the area too. Where ‘study technology’ has been employed elsewhere at schools around the world, it has been the subject of complaints from both parents and teachers.

The more the story is dissected, the more intruiging it becomes. A report from the Independent Schools Inspectorate found that just eight of its 101 students were in sixth form. The reason for this is explained by Fred, a former student who left Greenfields in 2008, who said that ‘Most of them left once they had done their GCSEs’, adding that some leave even before their GCSEs are completed. By ‘left’ he doesn’t simply mean they went to different schools or moved on to sixth form colleges – he was referring to students being transferred to America, not to study but to enrol on Sea Org (the secretive arm of Scientology which is described as ‘the church’s equivalent of a religious order’ and has been the subject of some of the more controversial allegations made about the church).

Much has been reported about what exactly goes on within this ‘order’, but Fred recalled meeting some of the students who had come back:

‘A few of them visited for a few days, and as they were my friends I hung out with them quite a lot, and they were really different, unpleasantly so. They were much quieter, they talked in a different way, in a slightly unpleasant way. They were less “there”. It was a very unpleasant experience meeting them again.’

Scratch away at the surface, and this quiet haven in rural East Sussex is not as it seems. Scratch away at the surface, and what you find is Britain’s only Scientologist school.

FSA team

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Girls banned from going to university

“No girls attending our schools are allowed to study and get a degree. It is dangerous.”

YeGlasses-and-Torah-Jewish-schools1-1068x801sterday the Independent published a document, written in Yiddish, which detailed the decree of the prominent strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish sect Satmar. The decree, aimed at the independent schools it operates in both the UK and around the world, reportedly says this:

“It has lately become the new trend that girls and married women are pursuing degrees in special education. Some attend classes and others online. And so we’d like to let their parents know that it is against the Torah.

“We will be very strict about this. No girls attending our school are allowed to study and get a degree. It is dangerous. Girls who will not abide will be forced to leave our school. Also, we will not give any jobs or teaching position in the school to girls who’ve been to college or have a degree.

“We have to keep our school safe and we can’t allow any secular influences in our holy environment. It is against the base upon which our Mosed was built.”

As shocking as this is, it’s nothing new.

Just a few months ago a judge upheld Ofsted’s decision to ban a Charedi school in Stamford Hill from admitting new pupils because it was, among other things, ‘fail[ing] to encourage respect for women and girls’ and teaching pupils ‘that women showing bare arms and legs are impure’. Last year, too, two schools in London reportedly wrote to parents to say that ‘no child will be allowed to learn in our school’ if they were driven in by their mothers, as this went ‘against the laws of modesty within our society’. The schools were forced to drop the ban after the Equality and Human Rights Commission deemed it ‘unlawful’.

A picture of the decree, originally published by the Independent.

In April, a Jewish private school was failed by Ofsted because ‘pupils demonstrated stereotypical views on the roles of men and women, with men “going to work” and women “cooking and cleaning”’. And last year the Rabia Girls’ and Boys’ School in Luton was criticised by inspectors for, among other things, teaching a design and technology syllabus which ‘limits girls to activities on knitting and sewing’.

We could go on, believe me, and those are just the schools we know about. As has been well-publicised, not least on this site, the existence of illegal, unregistered Charedi schools has been an open and shamefully unaddressed secret for years.

But this is by no means a problem specific to Jewish schools, or indeed to any other kind of ‘faith’ school. And that’s the problem. For too long religion has been allowed to range free in our schools and run roughshod over the education of our children. As long as this is the case, we’ll be forced to come on here time and time again to highlight yet more tragic and heartbreakingly avoidable failings in UK schools.

Until the next time…

FSA team