It's a good thing to get Bible's into schools and the outcry from the NSS and BHS is understandable. But one Bible in a school of hundreds of kids and staff??? How are they to be used? As pulpit bibles? What will Gove put into the preface - there are some great suggestions on Twitter (#ToryBible). And why choose the KJV is you want children to read the Bible - I suppose that sending another Bible to celebrate the KJV 400 Anniversary would be daft but it's just as daft to send one copy of a book in Elizabethan English. So much more could be done to further Biblical Literacy than this stunt!
Every state school in England is to receive a new copy of the King James Bible from the government – with a brief foreword by Michael Gove, the education secretary, to mark the 400th anniversary of its translation. In a move intended to help every pupil access Britain's cultural heritage, every primary and secondary school will be sent a new copy of the 1611 translation by next Easter.
The initiative has been criticised by secular campaigners as a waste of money. The National Secular Society said that schools were already "awash with Bibles". It urged Gove to send out a copy of Darwin's On the Origin of Species instead.
Gove, who is proposing to write a two-line introduction for the bibles sent to schools, said of the 1611 translation: "It's a thing of beauty, and it's also an incredibly important historical artefact. It has helped shape and define the English language and is one of the keystones of our shared culture. And it is a work that has had international significance."
The National Secular Society said that Darwin's writing is "much harder to find in schools", while evangelical groups are keen to donate bibles.
The Department for Education estimates the cost of the scheme at £375,000, and is seeking philanthropic sponsorship. A spokesman said: "As many people have noted – from former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion to the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor – the King James Bible continues to shape our culture. Understanding the story of its publication and the impact it has had on today's English-speaking society is an important part of the teaching and learning of history and language."
The education secretary has also urged more "unashamedly elitist" institutions, including Cambridge university and leading public schools, to help run state schools. In a speech at Cambridge promoting the virtues of a classical education, he called for a deeper study of literature – "Austen's understanding of personal morality, Dickens' righteous indignation, Hardy's stern pagan virtue" – scientific reasoning, history and foreign languages.
Gove praised an academy school in London that competitively ranks every pupil by subject, and another in Luton that has fostered a love of Shakespeare among "overwhelmingly Asian" pupils.
He called for more leading universities and private schools to sponsor academies to "extend excellence" in the state sector. So far, few private schools have responded. Of 319 sponsored academies, just 17 have private schools or private school foundations as the lead sponsor.
Gove also made twin arguments in favour of an emphasis on high academic standards. He said that countries with the best-educated workforces would be the most attractive to investors, as outsourcing and technology reduced job opportunities for those with low qualifications. He said it was vital in a democratic society for citizens to be well educated.
The education secretary began his address with a reference to a speech by the Victorian statesman William Gladstone in 1879 in which he "invoked Pericles, Virgil and Dryden … discussed the merits of the Andrassy Note and the Treaty of San Stefano and … outlined six principles of Liberal foreign policy".
Gladstone's speech was not made in Parliament, but to a crowd of landless agricultural workers and miners in Scotland's central belt, Gove pointed out. "I think the most striking thing is how different the public of 130 years ago were. Or, more specifically, how different were the expectations that the political class had of that public," he said.
Gove said that society should be more demanding of teachers and students. "We should recover something of that Victorian earnestness which believed that an audience would be gripped more profoundly by a passionate, hour-long lecture from a gifted thinker which ranged over poetry and politics than by cheap sensation and easy pleasures."