Buddhists plan first state school
England's first Buddhist state school could open within five years, under plans being developed.
The primary school in Birmingham would serve up to 300 pupils and could pave the way for a secondary school in the future, according to the Birmingham Buddhist Vihara Trust, the charity behind the project.
John Beard, the trust's chairman, said there would be demand for the school from Buddhists, followers of other religions. It would also need non-believers to fill its places.
"I know there is an argument made against faith schools on the grounds of integration," he said. "But we would not turn anyone away. Our religion is very clear that you can be a practising Jew or Christian and follow the principles of Buddhism. We don't worship a God, so there is no conflict."
The plans follow those for the country's first Hindu state school, the Krishna Avanti Primary, due to open in Edgware, north London, in September.
Since Labour came into power in 1997, Muslim, Sikh, Seventh Day Adventist and Greek Orthodox schools have joined the maintained school sector. In the Government's document Faith in the System, launched last year, it praised faith schools and said it was committed to opening more where there was local demand.
Mr Beard said there were sizeable Sri Lankan and Vietnamese communities in Birmingham who would want to send their children to a Buddhist school. But with an overall Buddhist population of around 3,000 in the city, Mr Beard said the school would also have to attract pupils from other faiths.
"I am sure there would be interest from parents. Hindus, Sikhs and other religious groups would not have a problem going to a Buddhist school," he said.
"Education should not just be about the 3Rs. The pastoral care and morality that goes with it is of great importance and would be a strength in our school."
Andrew Copson, director of education at the British Humanist Association, said faith schools damaged efforts to build community cohesion.
"It is a particular shame that the children of Buddhists and Hindus - children who in the past have been educated in shared schools - may in the future be denied that experience as a result of the expansion of faith schools," he said.
The Buddhist trust has a history of completing the projects it has proposed for Birmingham, including a pagoda that opened 10 years ago and an institute devoted to teaching adults about Buddhism, which is due to accept its first students in September.