Another two damning articles in the Times and a letter
Today’s Times has two more articles by Mostrous and Kenber giving further grounds for serious concern about the Exclusive Brethren, and a letter about them from Sir Stephen Bubb, Chief executive, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations.
The first article has the headline
Private-school sect ‘took £½m state cash in deal with colleges’
It describes how a Focus school had an arrangement with Barnet and Southgate College to get Government cash for merely enrolling some of their students at the College. It says,
Leaked documents suggest that the pupils continued to be taught the same lessons by Brethren-employed teachers. Barnet College appeared to have no involvement in teaching the pupils beyond conducting “lesson observations”.
The second, much longer article describes some of the bizarre policies at Focus schools. The headline is
The class that was scared of biology. ‘They thought it was linked to the Devil’
The article describes an extraordinary degree of censorship of teaching materials, amounting to the removal of several important topics from the curriculum and an entirely inadequate treatment of other important topics. It also describes extraordinary and disturbing aspects of the ethos and culture within Focus schools. It is based on the testimony of eight former teachers.
Eight former teachers at Brethren schools, most of whom left in the past two years, variously claim they were required to use science textbooks with pages ripped out, that boys and girls were prevented from talking to one another outside class and that bullying, racism and homophobia were endemic.
“They were scared of biology,” the teacher, who has since left, claimed. “They were very negative when you mentioned it. They associated it with the devil.” She claims that she was instructed to remove large numbers of pages from textbooks.
“There were things removed from everything I taught. They took out everything to do with sexual reproduction, including hormones, fertility, birth control, and removed anything to with evolution.”
A male teacher at another Brethren school, who left in 2013, made similar claims. “Anything that showed the Earth as being 4 billion years old was removed or glued together,” he said. The same thing happened with pages about contraception while “anything that showed gay relationships as being normal was defaced in that way as well”.
Teachers and former members who spoke to The Times, however, claimed that Brethren children were often intolerant of anyone who was different from their own largely white, Anglo-Saxon community.
When one teacher put on a DVD clip which happened to feature a black woman, she claims the pupils “all started making monkey noises and saying that black people were a different species. I was told that we couldn’t discipline [them]”.
Another former staff member, who taught science, claimed: “They don’t see anything wrong with saying black people are going to hell.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “If any evidence is presented to us that a school is not keeping children safe from the risks posed by intolerant views, it will be investigated.”
Most of the former staff who spoke to The Times said their abiding memory of Brethren schools was one of the sadness they felt for the wasted promise of many pupils. One said: “I just feel sorry for them because there is no out — they’re not equipped with the skills and the ones who leave, it’s so difficult for them.”
Here also is the text of a letter to the Editor.
[Letter to The Times]
Last updated at 8:15PM, March 20 2015
Sir, The logic of the argument advanced by the chairman of the Charity Commission defending his organisation’s decision to award charitable status for the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (letter, Mar 19) does not withstand scrutiny.
William Shawcross asserts that the commission was “the first public authority to put on record the ‘detriment and harm’ caused by the doctrines and practices of the Brethren”. He then states that, after concessions, it registered various Brethren organisations as charities. Awarding charitable status to these bodies under any circumstances means that they can claim Gift Aid, which boosts the resources of the very organisations the commission previously found caused “detriment and harm”.
The reality of the matter is that the commission has taken a positive decision to facilitate the Brethren’s existence. A full explanation of the process and the individuals involved in granting this “harmful” organisation charitable status must follow.
Sir Stephen Bubb
Chief executive, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations