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The Christian head who's landed his ideal job ... at first Hindu free school

As the head of the country's first Hindu free school, Christopher Spall is responsible for instilling the Vedic philosophy at Krishna-Avanti Primary School.

He will ensure that pupils undertake daily meditation and eat only vegetarian food, in keeping with the school's faith ethos. But Mr Spall is not a Hindu.

In a highly unusual move for a religious school, the founders of the Leicester primary have chosen a follower of a different faith - in Mr Spall's case, Christianity - to be in charge.

Given his varied background as a private and state school teacher, and his most recent role as the head of a school with an Islamic ethos in Kuwait, Mr Spall believes he is well suited to the job.

"I would have loved to have gone into any faith school," he said. "I see myself as ecumenical. I really felt this job was spot on for me because of the cross-cultural nature of the school.

"I am half-German, half-English. I've lived in Kuwait and Iraq and have already been a headteacher of an English school in Kuwait. The clean-living feel to (Hinduism) really interested me. And I need to lose a bit of weight so the vegetarian meals are good for me.

"Some people may think it is strange, but I see it as an opportunity to learn about Hinduism, and for Hindu people to learn a bit about Christianity. I am not here to convert or be converted, but instead want an acceptance and appreciation for one another."

The school, which opened yesterday, will teach the national curriculum, but will also focus on spiritual development.

It is the second Hindu school to be established by the faith charity I-Foundation, following the opening of a sister school in Edgware, north London, in 2008.

It is one of 24 free schools that have opened this term, of which 11 are religious schools - a fact that has prompted some criticism.

British Humanist Association education campaigns officer Richy Thompson said: "Having freer schools unfortunately means schools freer to religiously discriminate than was previously possible in the state-funded system."

However, under free-school admission rules, only half of places can be reserved for followers of the faith if schools are over-subscribed.

All of the pupils starting at Krishna-Avanti this term are Hindu, with the exception of one Sikh boy. But Mr Spall - who has also taught at Laidon High School, a comprehensive in Basildon, Essex, and Loretto, the oldest independent prep boarding school in Scotland - said the aim was that eventually half of places would go to non- faith pupils.

I-Foundation project director Pradip Gajjar said non-religious parents should not be put off by the Hindu ethos.

"I have had feedback from non-faith parents saying the philosophy about the whole child is very appealing, and it's nice to do meditation," he said.

"What we teach is important values and principles for a better lifestyle, and that's why the school is attractive to all people of different backgrounds and faiths."

Free schools

The converted

Twenty-four free schools are opening this term, comprising 17 primaries, five secondaries and two all-through schools.

Eleven of these schools have a religious or spiritual ethos. In addition to Krishna-Avanti, there are six Christian schools, two Jewish schools, one Sikh school and one with a focus on transcendental meditation.

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