First state-funded Hindu secondary shows its hand
Plans for the country's first state-funded Hindu secondary school will be unveiled today.
Yoga, Sanskrit lessons and daily worship would all be on the timetable for pupils attending the planned school in north-west London.
The scheme follows the success of the Krishna-Avanti Primary in Edgware, Middlesex, which has been heavily oversubscribed since it opened two years ago.
The proposed secondary school, costing up to #163;30 million, would eventually cater for up to 600 pupils, with the ability to expand to 900, plus a sixth form.
Nitesh Gor, chairman of the I-Foundation charity behind both schools and chair of governors at Krishna-Avanti, said it was wrong that there were no Hindu secondaries.
"The fundamental issue is around parental choice," he said. "There are 6,500 faith schools in the country and not a single Hindu secondary school. That situation is unfair for one million Hindus and that's a very strong argument for change."
Mr Gor has already held discussions with the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which he described as "supportive".
Two potential sites for the school in Harrow and Barnet, both in north London, have also been identified and discussions are on-going with the local authorities.
Negotiations are also taking place with Leicester City Council about opening a primary school there.
The plan for the secondary, which would open as a four-form entry school, is to open it in time for when the first pupils leave Krishna-Avanti in 2015.
"Right now the primary is quite small," said Mr Gor. "It would be a feeder, but we would take children from other schools across the area. Now that the primary has opened we have a much better idea of demand."
Krishna-Avanti opened to one class of pupils in September 2008 before moving to its #163;10 million purpose-built accommodation a year later.
The school attracted criticism when it first published its admissions criteria, which said that preference would be given to families who were vegetarian and teetotal.
Critics from within the Hindu community said that would give preference to followers of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon), commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement.
The school subsequently withdrew those rules and handed control of its admissions to Harrow council, although it reserved 10 of the 30 annual places for families who worship at a major Iskcon temple.
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: "We are against all faith schools in principle, but particularly minority faith schools because they tend to have the effect of further segregating children on cultural and ethnic grounds. There could be no better example to demonstrate how false and misguided the Government's mantra is that faith schools contribute to cohesion."
But Mr Gor said there had been applicants to Krishna-Avanti from non-Hindus and they would consider reserving a number of places at the secondary for non-followers.
"We have been very proactive to ensure that the school is outward looking and inclusive and we have achieved that," said Mr Gor. "That is something we would like to carry forward in a secondary school."
QUEST FOR CASH KARMA
Plans to open the country's first Hindu secondary school will have to overcome financial hurdles to secure the necessary #163;30 million.
The I-Foundation charity behind the Hindu school plans has said it will have to raise more than the usual 10 per cent of construction costs normally expected of voluntary-aided faith schools.
Nitesh Gor, the charity's chairman, said: "The community is willing to put its money where its mouth is."
But he admitted that the project will also need a "significant" contribution from local authority funds and assistance from central government.