Close your eyes and think of... nothing at all

2nd November 2012 at 00:00
Planned free schools to tackle bad behaviour with meditation

Transcendental meditation has won numerous famous fans who claim it helps them to cope with the pressures of everyday life. Now its techniques are set to be used in a bid to improve behaviour in England's inner-city schools.

Plans to open a series of free schools in deprived urban areas have been unveiled by the Maharishi School Trust, which already runs the country's only state-funded Maharishi school in Lancashire.

The kind of meditation practised by the school - which was made famous by The Beatles in the 1960s and is advocated by celebrities such as comedian Russell Brand - would "be a guaranteed basis of improving things in poorer areas", said Richard Scott, a member of the trust. It would also improve behaviour and get children "on task", he said.

The news comes after the group behind Steiner schools - which eschew a mainstream curriculum, focusing instead on children's emotional and spiritual needs - also said that it wants to take its brand of education "more mainstream" by opening further free schools.

Mr Scott spoke out after two applications for Maharishi free schools in Richmond and Suffolk were turned down by the government. Although the Maharishi School Trust is preparing to resubmit its Suffolk bid for an opening in 2014, it has given up on a school in affluent Richmond because of a lack of sites, and wants to focus on deprived neighbourhoods.

The Maharishi school in Lancashire has been highly praised by Ofsted and went state-funded in September 2011 under the first wave of free schools. It was previously run as a private school.

"The aim would be to open a free school at the rate of around one a year," Mr Scott said. The trust is now in talks with a London borough with a view to making a free school application.

"A borough with a need for a school approached us after they saw our application in Richmond where 616 parents signed up, but we lost out," Mr Scott added. "They like the type of education that we offer and we hope to make an announcement soon.

"If we were to introduce this kind of programme to a school in a deprived area, it would help underprivileged children. While other schools focus on teaching, our school focuses on receptivity in pupils: they do transcendental meditation; they think more clearly; they are on task."

A trend towards fostering pupils' well-being is growing in the face of concern over excessive testing and pupil stress. The David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace - an organisation founded in America by the Twin Peaks director to bring transcendental meditation to schoolchildren, war veterans, prisoners and others - launched in the UK earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the Mindfulness in Schools Project, set up by a group of former teachers from leading private schools, aims to encourage skills that help pupils to remain aware and focused "in the present moment".

The planned expansion of Maharishi schools has been opposed by secularists, who claim that their philosophy is based on "pseudoscience".

Richy Thompson, faith schools campaigner at the British Humanist Association, said there is "no evidence" that transcendental meditation works better than other meditation techniques in improving outcomes for pupils. He also expressed concern about the promotion of herbal medicine at the schools. "These pseudoscientific approaches may prove damaging to children's education," he said.

Meditate on this

Transcendental meditation was introduced in India in the mid-1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The Maharishi first came to the UK in 1960 and found fame after teaching The Beatles.

At the Maharishi School in Lancashire, children aged under 10 meditate once a day for up to five minutes, with older children practising twice a day for 15 minutes. Practitioners claim this leads to increased creativity and improved intelligence.

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