Increasing numbers of schools are opting to run a youth version of the Alpha course, it has been reported.
The adult ten-week evangelical courses act as an introduction to Christianity but have been criticised for being anti-gay and manipulative.
According to a Times Educational Supplement report last week, the Youth Alpha courses, designed for 11- to 18-year-olds, are being taught at lunchtimes and in after-school clubs.
It estimated that around 60 schools had signed up, although some of these numbers may relate to church groups using school buildings.
Archbishop Blanch CofE High School in Liverpool has run the course for three years, with 300 pupils currently participating.
Reverend Kate Wharton, who set up the course in the school, told the TES: “Everyone is welcome, whether they are Christians, of another faith or don’t believe. They can ask questions without being signed up to anything. It is a fair and balanced introduction to the Christian faith.”
The Alpha course has received much criticism from various different quarters, despite being favoured by celebrities such as Will Young, Geri Halliwell and Bear Grylls.
From within the Christian church it has received criticism from both the evangelical and liberal wings, for its non-inclusive stance and psychological manipulation techniques used to convert members.
Critics say one session encourages students to speak in tongues and behave hysterically.
According to John Rose, who wrote an essay on the Alpha course attitude to homosexuality for the Gay and Lesbian Humanists Association, the course text espouses the sinfulness of homosexuality, AIDS as a judgement from God and the exorcising of homosexuality.
The text states: “He [God] did not design our bodies for homosexual intercourse.”
Rose added that in his Alpha course sessions, course leader Rev Nicky Gumbel compared homosexuality to paedophilia.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said his organisation was receiving increasing complaints from parents about such courses.
He said: “This is real fundamentalist stuff all wrapped up in reassuring words and delivered by a bloke in a jumper with a permanent smile who looks remarkably like Tony Blair.
“This is not a ‘balanced introduction’ to anything; it is a carefully planned attempt to push people in a very specific direction. It is deeply manipulative and has no place in schools paid for by the taxpayer.”