Pupils start classes at first Hindu school

The UK's first state-funded Hindu school has opened to pupils, it was announced today.

The reception class of the Krishna-Avanti Primary School, made up of 30 pupils, began studies today in temporary facilities at a next door school in Edgware, north west London.

Pupils will have to wait until next year before moving into a purpose-built school billed to become one of the most environmentally friendly in the country.

The school will offer an education based on Hindu values and beliefs but lessons will follow the national curriculum.

Pupils will have the opportunity to practise meditation and yoga, with school lunches following a strictly vegetarian diet. There will also be classes in the classical Sanskrit language on offer.

The school attracted criticism last year after announcing that pupils whose parents follow Hindu teachings such as vegetarianism and teetotalism will be given priority.

The Hindu Council UK warned that the policy would result in a school for Hare Krishnas.

But the I-Foundation, the Hindu charity promoting the school, said the admissions policy was intended to mirror those used by other popular faith schools.

The school will have 236 places and is expected to receive a large number of applications from Britain's 1.5 million Hindus, 40,000 of whom live in the London Borough of Harrow.

Accord, a new coalition of religious and non-religious groups and individuals pressing for reform of faith schools policy, said it had "reservations" about the opening of the school.

Accord chairman Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said: "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."

But Harrow councillor Anjana Patel said the opening of the school was a "new chapter" in the borough's already "outstanding" education service.

She said: "Harrow is one of the most culturally diverse boroughs, with Hindus forming the second largest religious group.

"It is therefore right that parents of every faith should be given equal opportunity with respect to the education of their children."