By Riazat Butt
GUARDIAN NEWS SERVICE: Europe's first state-funded school for Hindus, which receives its spiritual guidance from the Hare Krishna movement, opened in London amid continued concern about the divisive nature of faith schools.
Krishna-Avanti primary school, in the north-west borough of Harrow, home to about a quarter of the UK's Hindu population, is welcoming 30 children to its temporary base at Little Stanmore primary school. The school will gradually increase in size until 2014, when it will have filled places for 236 pupils, including a nursery.
However, pupils will have to wait until next September to enjoy their new GBP10m building, which will have a meditation garden, an amphitheatre for outside teaching and eco-friendly innovations such as a grass roof.
Headteacher Naina Parmar said it was a "huge step forward for Britain's 1 million Hindus" before adding: "I want our school to be a haven of peace. Hinduism is a very inclusive faith, which naturally promotes a calm, caring and cooperative learning environment.
"This will be reflected not only in the curriculum but also in the school's ethos and environment."
The opening coincides with renewed calls for a reform of the government's policy on faith schools. Members of Accord, a coalition of religious and non-religious groups and individuals, warned that faith schools could have a negative impact on children.
Its chair, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said: "Some parents will feel 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 urged the school to teach pupils about other traditions and to follow the local religious education syllabus. He said it was also vital the school did not discriminate against non-Hindus when employing staff or bar children of other faiths from attending.
Nitesh Gor, chair of governors at Krishna-Avanti, rejected suggestions that the school would foster segregation and insularity. "Faith schools have an excellent record of providing high-quality education.
"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."
Our take on it: Political Correctness gone too far.