Council and school cut ties with evangelical PSHE group

A council has said it is no longer working with a Christian group which evangelises in schools.

Salford City Council said it is “not currently engaged” with the Message Trust, a Christian charity which partners with schools to bring “news of Jesus to young people”.

One of the schools which partnered with the Message Trust, Ellesmere Park High School in Eccles, has also ceased hosting the group.

The decisions follow complaints from a parent who contacted the National Secular Society for advice when the Message Trust’s ‘Respect ME’ sessions in Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) lessons caused her concern.

The Message Trust’s objectives include “to advance the Christian faith primarily amongst young people and vulnerable adults”.

Its website says: “We want every single young person to know their identity and value in Jesus so through music, schools lessons and youth resources, our mission teams share gospel-packed truths to encourage and equip young people”. The Respect ME site says the program “has Christian values at its heart”.

The NSS is a leading campaigner against inappropriate evangelism in schools, which has become a growing problem in recent years.

Evangelists ‘preached at children for hours in the guise of PSHE’

A mother whose children attend Ellesmere Park High contacted the NSS in October concerned that the Message Trust were coming to the school each year to “preach at our children for hours in the guise of it being part of their PSHE lesson”.

The school told her the Respect ME sessions were “a valid part” of PSHE lessons and “denied” that they were of a religious nature.

She said this “is clearly not the case”, because one of her children told her that in a recent session “they mentioned Jesus throughout” and presented him “as the solution to problems such as bullying”.

Her children said the speakers ‘bribed’ pupils with prizes to attend a Christian youth club and constantly quoted verses from the Bible.

They also said all characters in the videos presented by the Message Trust were Christian heterosexuals apart from one gay character who was portrayed as “the perpetrator of a sexting offence and it didn’t get better for him (he didn’t find God)”.

The Message Trust is a member of the Evangelical Alliance, a Christian umbrella group which objects to homosexuality.

An episode of the Message Trust’s ‘Inside Message’ series features Evangelical Alliance CEO Gavin Calver criticising the government for “trying to make it illegal” to pray for a 16 year old who has “same sex feelings” through a ban on ‘conversion therapy’. The description of the video says: “This is just one of the shows we’re broadcasting here on Message Live to equip us all for mission and reach young people with the good news of Jesus”.

Following advice from the NSS, the parent raised her concerns again with the school. She said the school told her in January it had received “a few parental complaints”, and the teachers present during the Respect ME session “thought the religion was overboard”. As a result, the school “will not be hosting them again”.

The parent said: “We don’t object to our children learning different religions, it’s when they are being indoctrinated that we do”.

Council: PSHE sessions “should not have a religious bias”

The parent said the school’s reply suggested it had “accepted the booking on recommendation from Salford Council but did not look into the group themselves”.

She expressed her concerns about the Message Trust to Salford City Council in October. The council upheld her complaint and said it “fully” agreed the sessions “should not have a religious bias”.

The NSS also contacted the council, which said it had contacted 16 schools about the Message Trust’s Respect ME sessions since 2021.

The council said the Message Trust’s Respect ME programme was commissioned as an intervention to prevent young people “from becoming involved in crime and anti-social behaviour”.

It also told the NSS: “Through procurement the council will make it clear that any providers commissioned will follow the national curriculum with an unbiased balanced approach for these initiatives with engagements not having a religious focus.”

It said the council is “not currently engaged” with the Message Trust and has “fed back” to the charity.

NSS: Councils and schools must ensure groups “do not use schools as mission fields”

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: “We congratulate this parent on getting her local school and council to see that it’s unacceptable for evangelists to use PSHE sessions as a tool for religious indoctrination.

“We welcome the council’s decision to cut its ties with the Message Trust and to commit to only using providers who deliver unbiased and balanced PSHE sessions without proselytising.

“We hope other councils and schools will follow this example and ensure any external speakers they use do not use schools as mission fields.”

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