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DfE contemplates meditation independent's free school bid

A private school that specialises in transcendental meditation is in talks to become a free school funded by the taxpayer.

The Maharishi School in Lancashire is one of 10 potential free schools which the Department for Education has permitted to plan for re-opening in September this year.

Teachers and pupils at the school take part in three 10-minute meditation sessions each day, designed to help them "reach an inner peace" and create a better learning environment.

According to headteacher Derek Cassells, the school is responding to an increase in demand from local families which want their children to join the school but are unable to afford the fees.

"It's clearly an exciting innovation, to allow schools such as ours to become part of the national framework. We're very excited to be able to make our system of education as widely available as possible," Dr Cassells said.

"There is no other school like this in the country, and the only way we could set it up was to create a private, fee-paying school. But there is great public demand for the school. We are already over-subscribed, and since we began the process of becoming a free school we are hearing from a lot of families."

During an average day at the 75-pupil school, the first 10-minute meditation session follows the taking of the register. There is another 10-minute session before lunch and a final one at the end of the day.

Transcendental meditation is thought to have grown out of Indian philosophy and the teachings of Krishna, the Buddha and Shankara, but it has no religious basis. It is founded on the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (see box).

Dr Cassells believes it has a profound effect on pupils' ability to learn. "The first thing people are struck by when they visit the school is how it is just like any other school. The core curriculum is the same. All we do differently is have our pupils bring balance to their physiology and their nervous system, which allows them to learn more effectively."

Dr Cassells also said it has improved pupil behaviour. "It brings a whole raft of benefits, not least, of course, for teachers. Every teacher practises it, and as they are able to meditate with the pupils, they are able to teach better," he added.

But Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti-Academies Alliance, said: "These people are like mountebanks (quack doctors), selling lotions and potions to improve the school system.

"There is no research to suggest that free schools improve teaching and learning. The 2007 McKinsey report said the quality of a school system cannot exceed the quality of its teaching.

"What we need to do to improve the quality of the education system is to improve the quality of teaching. The Coalition's approach is to bring in new providers with bizarre messages, but there is not a shred of evidence to support it."


Lennon to Lynch: a short history

Transcendental meditation was popularised by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who started a worldwide movement in 1957.

It is usually practised for 20 minutes twice a day, with participants sitting quietly with their eyes closed. According to the UK's official website, the mind "transcends mental activity and experiences pure consciousness at the source of thought, while the body experiences a unique state of restfulness".

Transcendental meditation came to prominence in 1960 when it was practised by The Beatles. Since then, film director David Lynch has set up a foundation using it to help war veterans overcome post-traumatic stress.

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