Group of parents say children have been given hateful messages in assemblies and lessons led by charity CrossTeach
A primary school in Kent has cuts its ties with a Christian group after parents complained of religious extremism and claimed children had been distressed by comments about gay marriage and a demonstration of “God’s power” in assemblies.
Dan Turvey, the headteacher of St John’s Church of England primary school in Tunbridge Wells, told parents in a letter that he was ending invitations to the charity CrossTeach to lead school assemblies and take lessons, after what he called a campaign by parents.
The group of parents said they had been raising concerns for several months, and that the school had failed to address a string of complaints.
Incidents included a harvest festival assembly in which a CrossTeach guest speaker attempted to demonstrate “the destructive power of God” by smashing a model boat.
One parent claimed her son had been told last week that “men can’t marry men”.
The group of parents said in a statement: “We recognise and respect the school’s Christian values but think there is a brand of Christianitythat is abusing that respect. The basis of [our] complaint relates purely to concerns over the welfare and safeguarding of children who we believe are being exposed to potentially damaging ideology.”
One parent with a child at the school, who did not wish to be identified, said: “The fact that the school didn’t care or do anything about it is unbelievable. We have tried to engage with them but they weren’t really interested. What we don’t like is the hateful messages that have been given to our children.”
Turvey said the parents believed CrossTalk and others from St John’s church had an “extremist set of beliefs” but said he had not heard extremist views being expressed at the school.
“After careful consideration I have decided that we will end our regular commitment to CrossTeach and that they will no longer lead assemblies or take lessons,” Turvey told parents in the letter sent on Monday.
He said he was “deeply saddened” to take the step. “They do not deserve the tarnishing of their good name and allegations of extremism that have taken place over the last few months,” Turvey said in his letter. He said the group would still be allowed to run voluntary after-school clubs.
CrossTeach failed to answer requests for a response. Turvey told the Guardian: “Things we’ve read and heard from parents … we don’t recognise them. It’s clear there’s been some misunderstanding.”
As a faith school, St John’s has more leeway to promote the Church of England and Christianity to pupils. But faith schools must still adhere to Department for Education guidelines regarding fundamental British values, including equality and non-discrimination in matters such as gay marriage, as well as respect and tolerance for other faiths.
In recent years several Muslim faith schools have been penalised by the DfE and Ofsted for failing to respect British values, while some non-faith state schools
have been cited for failing to adequately prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.
In his letter to parents, Turvey bemoaned the influence of social media on the school during the campaign by parents.
“It is my view that the use of social media can be destructive and counterproductive. In this case I believe that the damage caused by the use of this media will take a very long time to repair,” he said, adding that it was clear “relationships have been soured and trust eroded” at the school.
Turvey told parents: “The past few months have been stressful, tiring and a distraction from our focus,” with the school facing an Ofsted inspection and financial difficulties.