Inside Britain's first Hindu state-funded faith school

The pupils do yoga, eat vegetarian food and are calm and alert. But critics say the rise in religious education is divisive and wrong

"I like the tree position best," says five-year-old Sadhana, standing perfectly still on one leg, hands clasped in prayer. She is one of a row of children perched like stalks on miniature yoga mats as calming music tinkles in the background. Half an hour earlier, when a crocodile of 21 four- and five-year-olds filed into the room, this had looked like any other school. But after they had launched into a Hare Krishna prayer, singing, patting a mrdanga drum and touching the floor in a low bow, it was clear that things are different here.

Sadhana attends the Krishna-Avanti Primary School in Harrow, Britain's first state-funded Hindu faith school, which opened its doors last September. Last week, The Independent on Sunday became the first newspaper to see the school at work.

It is one of the latest in a growing number of non-Christian faith schools. And its opening coincides with unprecedented levels of government funding for faith-based education, despite polls suggesting that public support for state-funded faith education is dwindling. A YouGov poll this month found that more than half of Britons think faith schools damage community cohesion, and 72 per cent want state schools to be forbidden from discriminating on religious grounds. Nevertheless, there are now 6,867 faith schools in England, with 395 in Scotland and 263 in Wales.

Until 1959, the state paid for only half the capital costs of religious schools, but over the past half-century the cost borne by the Government has soared, finally rising from 85 to 90 per cent under Tony Blair in 2001. Since Labour came to power, faith schools have broadened from being almost exclusively Christian to include Muslim, Sikh and now Hindu institutions.

Increasingly, the 10 per cent of capital costs that religious foundations are supposed to pay is slipping. Schools are claiming "exceptional circumstances" so often that the average contribution made by the foundations behind faith schools is just 7.5 per cent, resulting in additional costs to the taxpayer of more than £18m this year.

Critics say the bill to the taxpayer is all the more galling because faith schools are likely to be dominated by privileged and able children. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord Coalition, a body opposed to faith schools, says this is unacceptable: "The number of young people from low-income families attending both primary and secondary faith schools is lower than the number attending non-faith schools. As someone who values faith enormously, I find it immoral that they're using taxpayers' money to act in this way. If faith schools have any raison d'etre it should be to support those others ignore, but it seems the opposite happens."

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, says the decision is one of principle: "Most church schools proselytise. It is wrong in principle for the state to fund proselytisation – whatever state or religion."

Staff at the Krishna-Avanti stressed that indoctrination is not the school's aim. Naina Parmar, the headmistress, said: "We're certainly not here to proselytise the Hindu faith" – despite morning prayers and yoga being followed by a reading of the Bhagavad Gita.

From the children's point of view, however, school is school. After a session on the history of Krishna, one child could barely contain his boredom. "Can't we go out and play now?" he asked, squirming on the floor.

The children here have a vegetarian diet with plenty of yoga and outdoor play. The mid-morning snack is a piece of fruit or raw vegetable – in fact, this may well be the healthiest class in Britain. The effect is impressive: all of the children seem calm and alert beyond their years, listening intently to their teacher.

The school, which has only one class, is renting a room in Little Stanmore primary school as its £11m purpose-built site opposite is finished. Facilities will include a meditation garden, an amphitheatre for outside teaching and eco-friendly innovations such as a grass roof.

Officially, applications are open to all but priority is given to vegetarians and Hindus; there are currently no non-Hindus on the register. It is clearly intended as a resource for the 40,000-strong Hindu community in Harrow. The teacher, Mrs Clark, grew up in an Amish family in Canada and came to Hinduism after living in ashrams. "I'm a very open-minded person and I believe Krishna is the same god as Jehovah, Allah or any other. Our supply teacher is Muslim and I want to keep it that way. We want the children to be open-minded, which is what Hinduism is all about."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: MIS Officer - Further Education Sector

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Operating throughout London and...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all