MOVES to ban the study of creationism in Scottish schools have been criticised as "dangerous" by headteachers.

The attack came after the Scottish Secular Society (SSS) lodged a petition with the Scottish Parliament calling for new government guidance on the issue.

The society believes schools should not be allowed to present the belief that the universe originates from acts of divine creation as a viable alternative to established science.

However, Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland (SLS), which represents secondary headteachers, said schools were fully aware of the need to protect pupils from "extremist" views.

In a letter to Holyrood's public petitions committee he said banning the teaching of a particular topic would set a dangerous precedent.

"We do not feel this is a serious issue for schools, despite the inflammatory rhetoric frequently used by the petitioners," the letter states.

"Speaking on behalf of secondary schools, we feel there are enough checks and balances already within the system to prevent extremist views being perpetrated.

"It is, we feel, always dangerous to identify particular views, whatever they be, and take the approach that is being suggested here."

The intervention was welcomed by Rev David Robertson, the next Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland.

He said: "This demonstrates the SSS are simply trying to scaremonger and we hope our MSPs have the sense not to give in."

However, Spencer Fildes, chairman of the SSS, said creationist organisations were already attempting "with some success" to penetrate schools.

He went on to question whether the views expressed in the SLS submission were those of Mr Cunningham because of connections his church has with the Free Church of Scotland.

Mr Robertson has delivered sermons at the Cartsbridge Evangelical Church, in East Renfrewshire, where Mr Cunningham is a member.

Creationist advocate Alastair Noble, from the Centre for Intelligent Design, has also preached there - and was a former field officer for SLS.

Mr Fildes said: "We are aghast at the news that Mr Robertson has publicly targeted our society in sermons at Mr Cunningham's Cartsbridge Church and it is equally incredulous to learn that Mr Noble preaches there.

"We believe Mr Cunningham is making a mockery of parliamentary procedure by not disclosing his clear connections with creationists giving sermons at his church."

Last night, Mr Cunningham dismissed any suggestion the letter to the committee did not represent the views of the teaching union.

He said it reflected the official position of SLS after discussion with the organisation's presidential team, comprising four serving headteachers.

"The letter was sent as a result of an official request for further information from the Scottish Parliament and reflects the views of the organisation," he added.

"At no time does it pass judgement on the merits or otherwise of creationism, but raises only the view that professional school staff are best-placed to deal with all such issues."

The SSS petition was lodged after it emerged members of a US pro-creationist religious sect had been working as classroom assistants at a primary school in East Kilbride.

In England and Wales the teaching of creationism as scientific theories is prohibited in schools.