School faith plan raises doubts

Plans for a school to teach creationism as well as evolution have raised doubts over how the Ministry of Education will ensure children are properly educated under the Government's charter schools framework.

The Manukau Charitable Christian Trust is one of a number of faith-based groups planning to be, as the Government now calls them, a partnership school.

It plans to team up with Manukau Christian School and teach the In God's World philosophy, marked against the Cambridge curriculum.

The philosophy, used at other Christian schools, encourages every subject to be taught so students discover how God made the world, and upholds and governs it.

Science and culture modules are taught to equip students to recognise what the In God's World document calls the wonder of God's creation, and that God is the God of history.

Trust chairman Tony Bracefield said it planned to open a number of junior classes at churches, feeding up to senior classes on Manukau Christian School's grounds, and they would probably follow the same curriculum.

Bracefield said he didn't want to highlight any critical factors of creationism. "The education model is bigger than one part of the science curriculum. We would say you have to look at what students achieve, and our outcomes are that students sit the Cambridge exam. We are not trying to develop a fringe qualification, we are linking with an international one."

He said the school would also use non-qualified teachers. "Long-term, we hope to be sitting at about 200 children.

"That's a big number, but that's because we'll have part of the Manukau site, and the satellites. The model we envisage is that there will be a qualified teacher with one or two aids."

The Post Primary Teachers Association has concerns about public money funding religious activities in schools, and president Robin Duff said the types of people who appeared to be interested in charter schools, would not have made it through teacher education.

"In the case of the trust, we'd be concerned if an organisation with a ‘statement of faith' that denies evolution and claims creation according to the Bible is a historical event, were to receive state-funding."

He said the trust could be grouped with religious organisations like Destiny Church and the Maharishi Foundation, which had both expressed interest in charter schools, and which delivered education that denied scientific principles.

"Given the criticism of public schools over the quality of science teaching, you'd think they'd have concerns about taxpayer dollars being used to fund religious indoctrination rather than education, but apparently not."

Education Minister Hekia Parata would not comment, but associate minister John Banks said the ministry had received a lot of correspondence, including complaints about public funding of faith-based education.

He would not comment on the trust's charter plans.

"There is no proposed partnership to consider, because we haven't received any formal applications, and none have been called for," Banks said. "The first schools open in 2014, and expressions of interest will be called for next year."

Charter schools will be able to employ untrained teachers, set their own pay rates, choose their own staff and set curriculum and term dates. Legislation enabling the schools is expected this year.

Sunday Star Times