Opting-out for Jesus: Jonathan Foster visits a school where the Cross is central but the rod - or rather bat - survives

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The Independent Online
The Bible and the bat underpin teaching at King's Park School, the wisdom of Corinthians enforced, if necessary, with five 'corporal correction' strokes to the backside with a table-tennis bat.

The school, with 36 children aged up to 16, last week completed its seventh day of Christian teaching in the old coal, cotton and chapel town of Leigh, Greater Manchester. Its advent represents an increasing non-conformist opt-out from British state education in preference for an American bible-belt teaching system which claims the support of parents of 500,000 children around the world.

King's Park, based in the modern, single-storey buildings of the pentecostal Bride Community Church, is the 45th in Britain. Parents pay fees of pounds 1,000 a year toward the costs of six full-time and eight part-time teachers, none of whom is professionally qualified.

'They are qualified to teach what we want to teach,' Nick Park, one of the church's two pastors, said. Staff, paid less than qualified teachers, were trained by Christian Education, Swindon-based UK headquarters of the US teaching system.

Mr Park said: 'Children learn at their own pace, one basic concept at a time, studying at their own work-station. The curriculum covers all the major subjects.

'We do not teach religion as a separate subject. The whole curriculum is approached from a Christian perspective.'

The mathematics programme, for example, intersperses multiplication tables with quotations from Corinthians which the child must complete in a way that counts letters and spaces between words.

Their corporal punishment - or correction, as the school describes it - will be used rarely, if at all, Mr Park said. Any child beaten will be accompanied by a member of staff who will pray with the culprit during the beating.

Mr Park said parents had been attracted to King's Park because of central government control of a national curriculum 'based on humanism'.

King's Park expansion plans include the possible purchase of a former Church of England school, recently closed by Wigan education authority.

'One of our children was in a school where bullying, drug abuse and theft were rife,' Mr Park said. 'There is disillusion with academic standards.

'Most of our parents attend this church. They want a curriculum based on a spiritual, Christian perspective. It is not right-wing, but it does have a biblical, evangelical interpretation. We have Catholic children at the school. Their parents might not agree with us on religious issues, but they prefer our teaching and the ethic of our curriculum to the Roman Catholic school from which they have removed their children.'

King's Park, which cost the Bride church pounds 10,000 to set up, will be subject to inspection by Whitehall. Arthur Roderick, of Christian Education, said 150 British families were using the system to teach their children successfully at home. Numbers of independent Christian schools had increased substantially during the last five years, with new openings in east London, Thetford and Launceston, and proposals for new schools in Edinburgh and Northern Ireland.

'It appeals to non-conformist Protestant groups, both charismatic and non- charismatic,' Mr Roderick said.

The annual cost of the Christian Education system was pounds 150 for each child. A preparatory course of training, plus visits and tests, costs pounds 250.

'Our results in terms of academic standards and the character of children have left us much encouraged,' Mr Roderick said. 'Parents are encouraged by a system that is getting back to basics and giving their children a foundation in understanding the mechanics of language before they start to use it.

'The Christian ethos in the curriculum is non-denominational, but the widest use of it has been by Baptists, Brethren, Assemblies of God and Elim churches.'

The British course has already been adjusted to fit history, geography and mathematics syllabuses into British idioms.