Maharishi hopes DfE lets it be for school No.3
It is practised by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, film director David Lynch and comedian Russell Brand and was made famous by the Beatles in the 1960s. Now plans are being developed to extend the influence of transcendental meditation in England by expanding the number of state- funded schools run by its practitioners to three.
The Maharishi School Trust has revealed this week that it will apply next year to the Department for Education for funds to open two free schools based on the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian guru who died three years ago. He made worldwide headlines in 1967 when he introduced the Fab Four to the practice.
Earlier this year, the DfE accepted a bid by the country's only Maharishi school, which teaches 135 four to 16-year-olds, to become a free school, 25 years after it was first set up in Lancashire with private funds. Now Maharishi School Trust trustee Richard Scott wants to open schools in London and Suffolk by 2013.
It will hold two open days next month for parents interested in sending their children to its proposed school in Hampton, west London, which, if approved, will be called the Maharishi Free School Richmond. And a dozen parents have already signed up for a second school it is planning in Woodbridge, which will be called the Maharishi Free School Suffolk.
Mr Scott told TES that the Richmond school will cater for four to 18-year- olds and is expected to teach more than 100 children.
"We feel pretty confident about our bid because of our academic record. Transcendental meditation makes the children receptive; it makes their mind clear and they do well at school," he said.
Children under 10 meditate once a day for up to five minutes, with older children practising twice a day for 15 minutes. "We can help children lead a balanced life," Mr Scott added. "They become happier and healthier individuals."
The group's Suffolk outpost would be for children aged between 11 and 18. The trust is currently considering three sites in and around the market town of Woodbridge for its new venture.
It is not all good news, however, for the meditators. A further school planned for north London has been put on hold because Mr Scott said it was too busy putting together its bids for Richmond and Suffolk. Applications have to be made to the DfE by 24 February for schools to open in 2013.
Concerns about the increase in Maharishi schools have been raised by the British Humanist Association. "Free schools are extremely attractive to evangelical and pseudoscientific groups who would not have been able to set up state-funded schools. Just as we oppose the teaching of creationism, we would oppose schools that teach other beliefs not supported by scientific evidence," said the association's faith schools campaigner Richy Thompson.
But Mr Scott shrugged off their worries. "They seem to think we have some component of faith in what we do. We're completely non-faith. They also seem to think there's no scientific evidence for the benefits of transcendental meditation."
Certainly there seems little by way of objections from ministers. "Free schools are free to decide the teaching methods that best fit with the ethos of their school," a DfE spokesman said, adding that, based on Ofsted reports and GCSE results, the Maharishi school's academic achievements were among the highest in Lancashire.
And if the results are improving, civil servants will always be happy. Three may just be the beginning, it would seem.
Christian Family Schools Ltd, the charity that runs Bethany School in Sheffield, will apply next February to turn it into the Sheffield Christian Free School, which it hopes will become a 1,000-pupil school with 10 sites dotted around the city.
Judith Baxter, deputy head of the 71-pupil Bethany School, admitted the school was "unashamedly creationist".
"We teach creationism but don't want to be labelled a creationist free school," she added. "As Christians we believe God created the world but we recognise that is not the current view. We teach evolution as well."
The British Humanist Association called for the proposal to be rejected by the Department for Education. The DfE turned down a free-school application from the Everyday Champions Church in Newark last month, after saying: "The teaching of creationist views as a potentially valid alternative theory is not acceptable in a state-funded school."