On the first day of Christmas Lord Krishna gave to me ..

23rd December 2011 at 00:00
A Hindu free school embraces inclusivity by staging the nativity

Scenes of children dressing up in sheets, arranging tea towels precariously on their heads and being assigned the all-important role of the donkey's rear end have been a British primary school tradition for many years. This year, however, features a first: the country's only Hindu free school has taken the unorthodox decision to stage the nativity.

Indeed, Krishna-Avanti Primary in Leicester - which opened in September as one of the first 24 free schools approved by education secretary Michael Gove - has re-enacted the birth of Jesus Christ in the hall of the neighbouring St Paul's Catholic School.

Krishna-Avanti, whose curriculum adheres to a traditional Hindu philosophy, saw all its 33 children, aged four and five, perform one of the defining moments in Christian theology.

The school's Christian headteacher, Christopher Spall, explains the somewhat surprising decision by emphasising how important it is for children with a particular religious belief to celebrate other religious festivals.

"We are happy to allow Hindu children to perform a Christian story in a Catholic school," he said. "They know they are Hindu and follow the Hindu ethos, but it is good for them to be aware of other religious festivals.

"It is very important for me," he added. "It fulfils the open inclusivity of our school and shows the world we are not just a Hindu school doing Hindu things; we are a British school in England, supporting British traditions. It is part of our heritage. It would be wrong if I didn't share that with them."

Mr Spall said that the primary's teachers and parents fully supported the idea and he urged more schools in England to put on nativity plays, regardless of their religious background.

"It teaches (pupils) to be open-minded; to get along with other cultures and not see themselves as separate," he said. "I joined (Krishna-Avanti) from a Muslim school in Kuwait where you can't even say the words 'Jesus', 'Christmas' or sing carols - what does that say about a religion?"

Krishna-Avanti Primary stuck to the traditional script, with children singing carols and dressing up as the various characters in the nativity scene.

"It is an important religious festival for children to know about," said Pradip Gajjar, chair of the school's governors. "It is about the importance of learning to respect spiritual people such as Jesus."

The school's close relationship with St Paul's Catholic School saw many secondary pupils attend Krishna-Avanti's Diwali musical earlier this term and parents with children at St Paul's were invited to attend the nativity.

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