Admission row rattles Hindu haven of peace

11th April 2008 at 01:00
School drops rules on families being vegetarian and parents abstaining from alcohol

As the country's first Hindu state school, Krishna-Avanti aims to be a haven of calm with daily sessions of yoga and meditation for its primary-aged pupils.

A striking temple will form the centrepiece of the school's new building and Naina Parmar, its headteacher, talks of having gentle music piped into its corridors.

But its serene ideals have been dealt a series of blows, with accusations that it will favour only a small minority of the Hindu community when it opens next year.

The school, in Edgware, north-west London, has already had to alter its admissions code, which had stipulated vegetarianism as a condition of entry. Parents were also told they should abstain from alcohol to help win places for their children.

The school's faith partner is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon), commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement. But other Hindu groups say this is a minority sect and argue that as it receives state funding, the school should serve the wider Hindu community.

Government research published last week found more than half of faith schools were not following the rules on admissions. Ministers said some are even asking parents if they would be willing to donate money.

But in her first interview, Mrs Parmar has denied that Krishna-Avanti will favour one branch of Hinduism over another.

"We need to nurture values important to all Hindus," she said. "It was never our intention to exclude anyone and we have made quick changes after being criticised."

The school has now dropped its rules on vegetarianism and alcohol after it was claimed they would favour followers of Iskcon. But a new code, with parents asked to provide a letter from their temple confirming they are practicing Hindus, has still not satisfied the school's detractors.

Jay Lakhani, director of the Hindu Academy, which arranges lessons on Hinduism for schools, said there was no requirement that followers of the faith need ever attend a temple.

"The first government-funded Hindu school had a wonderful opportunity to exhibit both the breadth and depth of Hindu teachings through an inclusive admission policy," he said. "What we have instead is a fudge allowing the temple body to interpret the admission policy as it likes."

Ten of the 30 places available annually will be reserved for children whose families worship at Bhaktivedanta Manor, the main Iskcon temple, near Watford, Hertfordshire.

To help distance itself from admissions rows, the school has asked Harrow council to allocate its places. Mrs Parmar insists all Hindu children will be welcome, and that it will work closely with all local schools in a bid to build community cohesion.

The school will open to its first class of pupils in September in shared facilities with Little Stanmore School in Harrow, north-west London. It will move to its own new pound;10 million building next year.

Central to the school's philosophy will be creating a tranquil environment. Children will take their shoes off when they enter the school and take part in prayers and chanting each morning, hopefully with parents also attending.

There will be a strong emphasis on outdoor learning. Pupils will use a meditative prayer garden and grow vegetables, as well as following the national curriculum.

"We want our children to be well balanced emotionally, physically and spiritually," said Mrs Parmar. "We want a curriculum that allows Hindu children to deal with the stresses of modern life."


Jewish schools and pupils in England were targeted in 47 separate anti-Semitic attacks last year, according to a leading charity for protecting the Jewish community.

The Community Security Trust (CST), which offers free security advice and training to 80 Jewish schools, said the attacks showed the necessity for such schools to take tough precautions.

Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, gained widespread publicity last week when he published a list of schools which had breached admissions codes.

He criticised six faith schools in Barnet, north London, which asked for voluntary contributions on admission forms sent to parents.

Five of the six were Jewish schools, including Beis Yaakov Primary, which was asking for contributions of pound;895 per child per term. Hasmonean asked for a pound;50 "admission fee".

A spokesman for Barnet council said that its Jewish schools had needed to spend extra money on security, including bullet-proof glass, enhanced perimeter fencing and uniformed guards.

Mark Gardner, a spokesman for CST, said: "These schools are asking for money because they face the threat of anti-Semitic terrorism."

The 47 attacks are among almost 550 anti-Semitic incidents recorded by CST in 2007, the second highest annual total since the charity began keeping figures in 1984.

There were 31 incidents against Jewish schoolchildren on their journeys to and from school.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said there was no extra money available for schools to spend on high-level security.

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