Accord, a new coalition of both religious and non-religious groups and individuals promoting inclusive education and seeking the reform of faith schools policy, has expressed reservations over the opening of the Krishna-Avanti School in Edgware - the first publicly-funded Hindu school in Britain.
Accord's chair, Rabbi Jonathan Romain, said today: "We appreciate that some parents will feel immediately reassured by a school that shares their faith and cultural background, but everybody should also be aware of the impact this may have - limiting their children's knowledge of and interaction with children from other cultures, and also depriving other community schools of Hindu participation."
He commented: "It is vital for the good of both the children and wider society that the Krishna-Avanti teaches appreciation of all traditions, does not opt out of local Religious Education Syllabus, does not discriminate against employing non-Hindu staff nor bar children of other faiths from having the right to attend."
Accord (http://www.accordcoalition.org.uk/) is trying to open up a fresh conversation on faith schools and fully inclusive education, moving away from the polarised pro-and anti- arguments that have predominated in recent years.
Its specific aims are non-discrimination in admissions and employment, a balanced curriculum, a common inspection regime, and assemblies that reflect the whole community.
Members of Accord include the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, the British Humanist Association and the Hindu Academy, as well as clergy from different denominations, Jewish rabbis, secular commentators, academics, and education experts.
Nitesh Gor, chair of governors at Krishna-Avanti, rejected earlier crticisms, saying faith schools provided a good education and helped children form strong identities.
He said: “Faith schools have an excellent record of providing high-quality education and out- performing comparable non-faith schools. By helping children to develop strong self-identities, the best faith schools also give children the confidence to play a full part in the wider community.”
But Accord says that it is clear that some religious schools congregate children from one denomination while taking them away from other schools, and points out that the evaluated evidence on standards suggests that there is no evidence of a difference based on faith or non-faith, bit on social class and demography.
"When concerns are raised, the genereic response of faith school providers is usually 'we don't discriminate, we're open, we believe in integration.' All Accord is asking for is concrete policies and commitments that help make this assured rather than merely aspirational," commented Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia.
Krishna-Avanti’s first class of children will start in Reception on 15 September 2008.
The pupils will spend a year having lessons in temporary classrooms while its new £10 million campus is built on adjacent playing fields.