Creationists plan six more schools
The organisation behind a state-funded secondary school that has been criticised for promoting biblical creationism is to open two inner-city academies and is in talks that would bring seven schools under its control reports the Times.
The Vardy Foundation, the sponsor of Emmanuel College in Gateshead, whose pupils are encouraged to doubt Darwin's theory of evolution, will open its second school in Middlesbrough this year and is preparing to build a third in Doncaster.
It is also holding discussions with education officials in Leeds, Newcastle, Sunderland and Hull with the aim of opening a privately run evangelical academy in each city.
The foundation is headed by Sir Peter Vardy who has built an estimated personal fortune of £75 million from his chain of Reg Vardy car dealerships.
Sir Peter is said to have been frustrated by an initial reluctance by some Labour education authorities to accept his plans for a stable of Vardy academies in the North East, each modelled on Emmanuel, a city technology college that opened in 1990 and which has built a reputation for outstanding academic performance.
The Kingís academy will open in Middlesbrough in September and the Doncaster academy, which would replace Thorne Grammar School, will open in 2005 if a proposal under government consideration is approved.
However, several northern cities have proved less welcoming.
Ideological resistance to independent schools and a fear that a non-fee-paying academy would poach a cityís brightest pupils have proved stumbling blocks.
A furore last year over the creationist beliefs of some senior staff at Emmanuel, leading to claims ó denied by the school ó that children were being indoctrinated with biblical literalism, has also proved significant.
Among the strongest supporters of Emmanuel, are the parents of present and former pupils, some of them Muslim, who point to the schoolís consistent record of exam success.
In a deprived area and with a non-selective policy, 98 per cent of its pupils gained five or more A*-C GCSE passes last summer, against a national average of 52 per cent.
The school has gained ìbeacon statusî for its achievements and was given a clean bill of health by Ofsted and the Prime Minister after the criticism of its science teaching. Its places are consistently over-subscribed.
John Burn, the Vardy Foundationís chief academic adviser, and head of the Christian Institute as well as a former headmaster of Emmanuel, said that Sir Peterís involvement with education stemmed from a concern about low standards and the fact ìthat many youngsters seemed to leave school without any hopeî.
ìHe saw the success of Emmanuel and was very keen to replicate that. When he was approached by the Labour Government and asked to become more involved, he offered six schools but it has been a slow process because dogma keeps getting in the way of young peopleís development.î