What are the UK’s ‘New Christian Schools’?

cee-colourlogoMost people are unaware that the UK has a movement of private evangelical schools similar to those in the USA. They refer to themselves as the New Christian Schools, and the first (The Cedars School, Rochester) opened in 1969. It is difficult to give a precise number of the schools, because there is no official body to which they are all affiliated, and some of them are not members of any larger group. Sometimes the schools have been set up to serve only a particular local religious community, and do not advertise outside it. The largest group is the Christian Schools Trust (CST), which currently has 33 member schools. Outside of the movement, these schools are best known for teaching creationism, and for their opposition to the 1998 ban on corporal punishment in private schools.

The founders of the New Christian Schools were concerned that their attempts to raise their children as Christians were threatened by attending mainstream schools (even mainstream faith schools). They wanted the religious philosophy of the schools to match their homes. “We were working hard to instil Christian values into them at home,” writes Sylvia Baker of Trinity School, Stalybridge. “Did we really want all those values to be challenged as soon as they stepped into school?”

Professor Geoffrey Walford was the first academic to study the New Christian Schools seriously. He observes:

These schools share an ideology of Biblically-based evangelical Christianity that seeks to relate the message of the Bible to all aspects of present day life whether personal, spiritual, or educational. These schools have usually been set up by parents of a church group to deal with a growing dissatisfaction with what is seen as the increased secularism of the great majority of schools. The schools aim to provide a distinctive Christian approach to every part of school life and the curriculum and, usually, parents have a continuing role in the management and organisation of the schools.

The New Christian Schools usually charge much lower fees than elite private schools, and teachers, if they are paid at all, earn very low salaries. They tend to see their work as a calling from God, and make sacrifices to achieve this vision. The founders of the Christian Schools Trust, Sylvia Baker and David Freeman, have written a book called The Love of God in the Classroom which gives a good insight into the nature of the schools. One academic paper summarises the book this way:

The new Christian school movement is grounded in belief in the God who takes the initiative within the lives of the people of God to bring to fruition the purposes of God. Here is the God who communicates with individuals and with groups through the word of scripture, through pictures and words of prophecy. Here is the God who authenticates the message through answered prayer, through healing, and through the release of the necessary finances.

Reading Baker and Freeman’s book, it becomes clear that a number of the schools’ founders believe that God speaks to them. At the Cedars’ school, for example, the authors recount a conversation between Betty Harris, the school’s founder, and God. Betty had just employed a property surveyor to inspect a building that turned out to be unsuitable for the school:

As she left the building and went out of the gate, [Betty] talked to the Lord, voicing how puzzled she felt about what had happened. “Why should the surveyor have spent all that time doing a thorough survey that you, Lord, knew wasn’t going to be needed?” Straight away the reply came.

“Because there was someone in the house that day who needed me. I want you to learn from this that each child is precious in my eyes and that no trouble is to be spared in the training of my children, in prayer and in the care that I am asking you to give them.”

“Thank you, Lord,” said Betty, “and what shall I do now?”

Most of the New Christian Schools are not part of a denomination and do not accept any label beyond ‘Christian’. In his judgement on a court case brought by several New Christian Schools, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead observed:

The claimants claim to speak on behalf of a ‘large body of the Christian community’ in this country … The claimants are reticent about the name, organisation and other particular beliefs of the group of which they are members, stating only they are all ‘practising Christians’ and that there are 40 schools conducted in accordance with these beliefs.

Accelerated Christian Education

Although the first school was founded in 1969, by 1980 there were only about ten schools. By 1990, according to Walford, there were nearly 90. Part of the reason for this expansion was Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), which arrived in Britain when Emmanuel Christian School, Fleetwood, opened in 1979. ACE is a US import in which students receive most of their education working individually at desks facing the wall, separated by vertical screens. There do not have ‘teachers’ in the conventional sense, but ‘supervisors’. If students need assistance, they raise a flag. Students complete worksheets called PACEs (Packets of Accelerated Christian Education), which incorporate Biblical lessons and Bible memorisation into every academic subject.

A row of four wooden desks, each separated by vertical screens. A child sits at each desk wearing a blue sweater.
An ACE learning centre. Image: YouTube.

A number of ACE’s features made it suitable for rapid expansion. Because the students largely teach themselves from worksheets, there is no requirement for expert teachers. This means that small schools, which could not afford a range of specialist teachers, can get by with just one or two supervisors, who do not necessarily need qualifications. It means that a wide range of ages and abilities can be taught in the same room. It was cheap, too: in 1984, ACE’s UK distributor said, “‘To commence an A.C.E. school we inform parents that they will probably need £2,500 – £3,000 to set up. It costs £600 to come on to the A.C.E. programme and then there are the curriculum materials on top of that.” ACE schools could be operated in church buildings during the week, so there were often minimal building costs.

Today, ACE is distributed by Christian Education Europe. CEE’s website currently lists 30 UK schools, of which two are also CST members.

Williamson case

In 1999, corporal punishment was banned in English schools. The New Christian Schools saw this as an infringement of religious liberty. They practised corporal punishment on the basis of such Bible verses as Proverbs 23:13-14:

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

In response to the ban, the Christian Fellowship School, Liverpool, started a legal challenge that was supported by 50 other New Christian Schools. Christian Education Europe hosted a protest rally in London, at which the guest speakers were Garie and Marie Ezzo. This prompted a Newsnight investigation into the Ezzos, who advocated spanking children up to five times a day from the age of 18 months, and whose advice on withholding feeding from ‘disobedient’ children had been linked with failure to thrive in infants. At the time of writing, CEE still sells the Ezzos’ books on its website (to which I am deliberately not linking).

The legal challenge to the spanking ban was defeated in the European Court of Human Rights and then in the Lords. Of the outcome of this case, the Christian Schools Trust comments:

The upshot had been a ruling which they regarded as very unsatisfactory and which seemed to confirm their fears that it was becoming increasingly difficult to fulfil the purpose for which the new Christian schools had been established, to provide a setting in which children could be educated according to a Christian, rather than a secular, worldview.

I trust I am not alone in being concerned that these schools feel that hitting children is an important component of a ‘Christian worldview’.

List of Christian Schools Trust (CST) member schools (as of June 2016)

Bethany School — Sheffield
Bradford Christian School
Bournemouth Christian School
Christian Fellowship School – Liverpool
Covenant Christian School – Stockport
Emmanuel Christian School – Oxford
Emmanuel Christian School – Leicester
Emmanuel School – Walsall
Emmanuel School – Derby
Emmaus School – Wiltshire
Grangewood Independent School – London
Hope House School – Barnsley
Immanuel Christian School – Westerleigh
Immanuel School – Romford
Jubilee House Christian School – Nottingham
Kingsfold Christian School – Preston
Leeds Christian School of Excellence
Lewis Independent Christian School
Mannafields Christian School – Edinburgh
New Life Christian Academy
Plantings School – Plymouth
Regius Christian School – Edinburgh
Springfield Christian School – London
Sunrise Christian School – Glasgow
Tabernacle School – London
The Christian School – Takeley
The King’s School – Witney
The King’s School – Basingstoke
The King’s School – Harpenden
The River School – Worcester
The Vine Christian School – Reading
Trinity Christian School – Reading
Trinity School – Stalybridge

List of CEE (Christian Education Europe) affiliated schools (as of June 2016)

Branch Christian School – Dewsbury
Carmel Christian School – Bristol
Christian School of London
Emmanuel School – Exeter
Excellence Christian School – London
Faith in God’s Word – Peterborough
Greater Grace School – Chester
King of King’s School – Manchester
The King’s House School – Windsor
Kings Kids Christian School – London
London Christian Learning Centre
Luton Pentecostal Christian Academy
Maranatha Christian School – Swindon
Nursery Moksliukus – London
New Hope Academy – London
New Life Academy – Hull
Oxford Christian School
Paragon Christian Academy – London
Phoenix Academy and Nursery – London
Promised Land Academy – London
Redemption Academy – Stevenage
Regents Academy – Louth
Seed of Light Christian Academy – Manchester
The Lamb’s Christian School – Birmingham
The Vine Christian School – Reading
Zion Christian Academy – Luton
Bridgend Christian School
Cardigan Christian School
Living Rivers Christian School – Ballymena
So He Cares – London

Jonny Scaramanga also blogs at Leaving Fundamentalism.

Suppressing criticism, manufacturing support: the truth about the Steiner school movement continued

“Making an informed decision about these schools is further obstructed by the Steiner Waldorf movement actively suppressing attempts by parents to make their concerns public.”

Rudolf Steiner, who founded Anthroposophy and the Steiner school movement
Rudolf Steiner, who founded Anthroposophy and the Steiner school movement

A blog I wrote that was posted on this site a few weeks ago described my early encounters with the Steiner movement after I enrolled my son at one of their schools. I explained how the more experience I had of the school, the more uncomfortable I became, until one day, after a particularly troubling incident, I phoned the school to tell them that I no longer considered a Steiner education as suitable for my son. That is where I left off, but unfortunately there’s more to tell.

They tried persuading us to stay, explaining that it can take up to a year for some of the children to settle. That should have been the end of our association with Steiner Waldorf schools, but unfortunately we had bought a house near the Steiner school our son had attended and over the following four years many Steiner Waldorf families moved to the same location. Thus we unintentionally found ourselves living in a Steiner community. How my family dressed, the food we ate, how we spoke, how we moved, the type of toys our children played with, whether we watched television,  whether we had our children vaccinated, what car we drove, even the fuel we put in the car — all came under intense scrutiny.

I did try to discuss my concerns regarding Anthroposophy with some of the families, including my thoughts that some of the characteristics of the movement appeared to be cult-like. But I was told “that is what a novice would say” and that I didn’t understand. I remember one day wearing a pink dress and one of the parents stating “You’re wearing pink! You’re becoming more spiritual!”

The behaviour of some of the children (and parents) became so worrying that it forced me to look further into Anthroposophy. It was the impression they gave of superiority, particularly the euphemistic new age language they used that produced disquieting echoes of my previous studies. I remember typing a search into google “Steiner and Nazism” and discovering the research of Peter Staudenmaier, and everything profoundly fell into place. Dr. Staudenmaier had recently completed his Ph.D. at Cornell. The title of his thesis is “‘Between Occultism and Fascism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race and Nation in Germany and Italy, 1900 – 1945.” Any parent who is considering a Waldorf school should read Staudenmaier’s invaluable work.

We eventually moved away and I thought I had put the whole experience behind me until I was alarmed to read that the then Education Minister Michael Gove was keen to fund Steiner schools under his ‘Free Schools’ policy. Now, 6 years later, there are four state-funded Steiner academies in England. This is a travesty in itself, but without the concerted campaign that was launched to expose the truth about the movement, there would likely have been far more. The process by which those four schools were established, and the subsequent campaign opposing their establishment, merit a blog of their own.

The public should know that little or no independent research supports Steiner pedagogy; praise for Steiner schools comes predominantly from within the Anthroposophical community. The notion that Steiner’s emphasis on the delay in formal reading is in line with early years policy in many other European countries is misleading. Steiner’s instructions for delaying reading were due to his stated belief that early intellectual development hampers the child’s spiritual growth and that Waldorf teachers should await the birth of the child’s etheric body, indicated by the cutting of the adult teeth.

Steiner Waldorf schools state that Anthroposophy is not taught to the children, but this statement is disingenuous. Anthroposophy underpins every aspect of the pedagogy in Steiner schools. If I and others had known that the self-described “fastest growing education movement in the world” has given rise to a survivors group and Waldorf critics across the world, we might have been able to make an informed decision before enrolling our children.

Making an informed decision about these schools is further obstructed by the Steiner Waldorf movement actively suppressing attempts by parents to make their concerns public. A document discovered a few years ago from the Swedish Steiner Waldorf Federation states that they employ an individual to “monitor the debate” here in the UK. The individual has previously appeared on various forums including Mumsnet, the Times Educational Supplement forum, and the BBC education forum using a number of aliases including posing as a mother. He has previously used intimidating behaviour including threatening legal action unless problematic discussions of the schools were deleted. I am also told that he has published the names and locations of parents who have raised concerns, behaviour one would not normally expect from a school movement. It is a somewhat disturbing experience watching your words of support almost instantly disappear online due to the repeated misuse of litigation, especially the threat of litigation against any form of criticism.

I strongly believe that those responsible at the highest level in education have a duty towards the children involved to undertake an urgent investigation into the Steiner Waldorf school movement.

Anonymous

This is an edited and updated version of a piece that was first published on the Waldorf Watch website under the name ‘Coming undone: unravelling the truth about the Steiner school movement’.

Sexist, limiting, manipulative: my education at a church-run private school

“I wish I’d been taught about contraceptive choices and consent. Instead, I was sent out into the world naïve, judgemental and feeling like an outsider who needed to go along with things so that I wasn’t discovered.”

Photo: Charlotte90T
Photo: Charlotte90T

I went to a church-run private school in a generic town from the age of eight all the way through to the end of my GCSEs. The school was the result of the idealistic thinking of enthusiastic non-denominational charismatic Christians in the 1980s. It started off with some unqualified volunteer teachers, a classroom converted from a World War II bunker and some sexist rules about women not being able to wear trousers. By the time I got there, the bunker was out of bounds but the rest was the same. Faith was intrinsic to the school day; we had hands-in-the-air worship in assemblies, prophesy practice in tutor times, and memorised bible verses alongside our spellings and times tables.

One emotion that stands out from my school days was a growing frustration at the lack of opportunities for females. My year group consisted of lots of smart girls with natural leadership abilities, and a few quiet and retiring boys. Every opportunity was catered towards the boys, regardless of who was the best candidate for the role. From running a mock election, to writing the school newspaper, going on an exchange trip, or learning STEM subjects – the boys were the priority. It was so subconscious that I’m sure the teachers weren’t aware of their bias. I was too young to understand that I was disrupting classes out of protest for being overlooked and under-challenged. I eventually bought a Science GCSE syllabus, and taught myself and some of the other girls after school. One girl retook a GCSE module she had previously failed and got a B. She wasn’t a low achiever like the teachers assumed, she had just never been taught.

There was no sex education, just an atmosphere of scorn and disapproval. We had just one lesson in Science about the biology side of things and were told in Sociology that we shouldn’t vote for the Liberal Democrats because they were pro-choice. There was one special afternoon in Year 9 where youth leaders from the church came in, the boys and girls were separated, and taught respectively not to masturbate or kiss anyone before marriage. The emphasis on female purity was really strong. I remember thinking at the time that I would rather be murdered than raped, because then at least I would still be a virgin. I wish I’d been taught about contraceptive choices and consent. Instead, I was sent out into the world naïve, judgemental and feeling like an outsider who needed to go along with things so that I wasn’t discovered. My school friendships became toxic as we hit puberty, and those who rejected Christianity were shamed for normal teenage behaviour by their peers, including me.

With teachers sourced from the church, there was quite a lot of spiritual manipulation. My report card from Year 4 stated that I should work on my sharp tongue. This comment destroyed me when I read it, and stayed with me for years as something that was fundamentally flawed about my personality. I struggled with guilt throughout my childhood for not feeling how every adult in my life was telling me I should feel. As I got older, I would fluctuate between wanting to fit in with other teenagers and an intense guilt for not being pure enough. I would drive this into trying really hard to be a good Christian, and then feel disappointed in myself for God still not seeming real. This led to bouts of depression until I gave up trying all together.

The place became more normal during the eight years I was there, and I heard it became more secular after I left. I wouldn’t say going to the school damaged me permanently. The small class sizes suited me on the whole and I got good enough GCSE results to carry me through to A Levels. More importantly it taught me how to adapt to survive. It taught me how to spot when someone is trying to manipulate me. It gave me a sense of optimism that everything will work out for me because a deity has got everything planned, even if I’m now missing the God. These skills allowed me to leave the school behind and transition quite smoothly to a large secular sixth form, then university, and a career after that, albeit with a few years of grappling with a conflicted identity.

Anonymous