Hindu education group concerned over new academy school

By staff writers
February 3, 2010

A leading Hindu organisation is among the inclusive education campaigners to express concern about the precedent set for more religiously selective schooling by the Krishna-Avanti Primary School in Edgware.

The North London school, which launched its new environmentally-friendly wood-clad and grass-roofed buildings last week, has been reported by the BBC as "the first of many" Hindu schools funded with taxpayer money.

The Conservative leader, David Cameron and the Church of England are also promising a major extension of faith schools in Britain. At present, such schools are allowed by law to discriminate in favour of their own denomination and against others in matters of admissions and employment, even though they are financed by the general public and are part of the state system.

Jay Lakhani, of the education body, the Hindu Academy, says that the focus of the Krishna-Avanti Primary School on just one manifestation of God makes it unrepresentative of Hinduism as a whole, let alone of other people in the community.

Mr Lakhani - who is also a member of the group Accord (www.accordcoalition.org.uk/) which calls for faith schools to be open to pupils of all religions - also points out that its "exclusivist" approach will jeopardise Hindus' traditionally enthusiastic integration into mainstream society.

"If we are trying to take into account the needs of a modern society, we cannot have a system which is divisive by nature, and say that unless you subscribe to this religion you are somehow outcast from this particular enterprise," he says. "It is a very poor signal and a divisive system."

The school insists that it will be outward looking, spending as much time studying other religions as Hinduism. But educationists say that this is no substitute for pupils from different cultural and belief backgrounds actually meeting each other on a day-to-day basis.

Accord, which wants to see all publicly funded schools being open to all, has Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and humanist supporters.

The coalition has pointed out that a recent Church of England supported survey suggesting that church schools are better at educating for inclusion than community schools, is being used to give a misleading picture because single-faith or heavily selective faith schools have to do extra work to compensate for lack of adequate integration, and remain limited by discriminatory admissions even after teaching about the need for respect for all.

To gain admission to the Krishna-Avanti Primary School, pupils will need a confirmation from a temple priest or someone else a the Temple that they are a practising Hindu, although Jay Lakhani says it is quite possible to be a "cultural Hindu" without setting foot in a temple.

"The crying need in Britain right now - recognised by people of all faiths and backgrounds - is for integrated education that enables pupils, teachers and parents from different communities to grow in mutual understanding and respect," said Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, which is one of the founders of Accord.

He added: "Although both opinion surveys and independent qualitative research demonstrates the case for open access, non-discrimination and positive inclusion in taxpayer-funded schooling, the main parties remain trapped by the idea that more selection means choice - when actually it limits the choices of a greater number. Vested interests are also being allowed too great a role in determining policy. At a time when there is widespread concern about 'cleaning up politics' this kind of collusion is unhealthy."

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.