A SCOTTISH council at the centre of a row over the promotion of young earth creationism in one of its primary schools has become the first to introduce tough new measures to protect children.


South Lanarkshire Council has adopted a raft of new rules for non-denominational schools including criminal records checks for chaplains and the insistence that teachers should be present during visits by religious groups.

In addition, the council has drawn up guidance to ensure homophobic or creationist teaching is barred and parents are to be told who is talking to their children in school.

In 2013, it emerged that Alex Gear, from the West Mains Church of Christ, a US-based sect that does not believe in evolution and condemns gay relationships, had been invited to become a chaplain at Kirktonholme Primary, in East Kilbride.

Mr Gear also ran a club at the 400-pupil school on Monday evenings and spoke to pupils about his beliefs as part of their religious education lessons.

Many parents only realised their children were being exposed to the evangelical group's agenda when pupils took home young earth creationist books they had been handed at assembly which showed mankind living alongside dinosaurs.

Caroline Lynch, a former chair of the Scottish Secular Society (SSS), welcomed the move by South Lanarkshire Council.

She said: "This is excellent news and we commend the education authority for taking such decisive and comprehensive action. They have clearly listened to both our concerns and those of parents and moved to implement every change we had requested of them.

"In taking the secular approach, they have balanced the needs of religious families and the requirements of the law to provide religious observance with the human rights of those who wish to be fully informed and to exercise the choice of whether to participate.

"South Lanarkshire has clearly shown the way and we would urge every education authority and the Scottish Government to look at what has been achieved out of the ashes of this controversy and to implement these positive steps to safeguard the rights of all children in Scotland."

Tony McDaid, the council's head of curriculum, said: "Following events in 2013, there was a review of guidance for schools regarding chaplains and chaplaincy teams in non denominational schools.

"This included seeking the advice and support of a number of stakeholders including headteachers, parent councils and church representatives, as well as the council's curriculum and quality improvement service.

"The new guidelines provide clear information regarding chaplains and chaplaincy teams and we are confident non denominational schools will find them very useful."

The scandal blew up after two creationist books denouncing the theory of evolution - one called How Do You Know God is Real? and the other entitled Exposing the Myth of Evolution - were handed out to pupils.

Both were written by American author Kyle Butt, whose other works include a book called ­Homosexuality - Sin or Cultural Bad Habit? His books are printed by the Alabama-based Apologetics Press, which is closely affiliated to the Church of Christ.

The SSS is currently petitioning the Scottish Parliament for new guidance to be introduced to outlaw the promotion of young earth creationism in schools.

The SSS wants MSPs to urge the Scottish Government to bar the "presentation" of young earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution in the classroom.

The petition has been backed by a number of eminent scientists and, most recently, the UK-wide Society of Biology.

However, School Leaders' Scotland (SLS), which represents secondary headteachers, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country's largest teaching union, and the Scottish Government all wrote to the committee outlining their objections.