CANTERBURY, England (RNS) Schools run by a conservative Christian sect called the Exclusive Brethren are under investigation following claims by former teachers that they were required to use science textbooks with pages ripped out, prevent boys and girls from talking to one another outside classrooms, and tolerate bullying, racism and homophobia.
Life at Britain’s 34 Brethren schools is under the microscope following a decision last year to grant them charity status, which allows the group to avoid taxes estimated to be worth millions of pounds every year.
The Exclusive Brethren includes about 17,000 members across England.
After their first bid for charitable status was rejected, the sect fought back with supporters writing thousands of letters to the Charity Commission, which regulates charities in England and Wales.
The sect’s leader is an Australian named Bruce Hales (followers call him “the Prophet”).
Over 200 members of Parliament supported the Brethren’s charity status. But new disclosures have changed the public image of the group.
Eight former teachers have spoken to the media and described school buses segregated by gender, classroom racism and textbooks with pages on evolution, fossil fuels and sexual reproduction ripped out.
One teacher told The Times: “Anything that showed the earth as being 4 billion years old was removed or glued together.”
The same thing happened with pages about contraception, while “anything that showed gay relationships as being normal was defaced in that way as well.”
Another former staff member told The Times: ”They don’t see anything wrong in saying that black people are going to hell.”
Brethren spokesman Rod Buckley said racism and homophobia were “a blight that exists to some extent in every society.”
He added that numerous inspection reports had recorded “no suggestion that this was a problem.”
Brethren schools are not overseen by the British government’s Office for Standards in Education but by a private company monitored by the Department of Education.
The Brethren receives no state funding to run its schools.
The Plymouth Brethren is the forerunner of the Exclusive Brethren. In the 19th century, the Plymouth Brethren formed branches all over the world, including America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and different parts of Africa.