for The Telegraph (UK) on June 8, 2008
A groundbreaking ceremony is performed at the site in Harrow of Britian's first state-funded Hindu primary school.
Britain's First Hindu state school has been launched with a traditional ceremony of Indian drums and the chanting of ancient prayers.
Pupils at Krishna-Avanti Primary School will have dedicated yoga and Sanskrit lessons and will grow vegetables, in line with the strict vegetarian principles of the school.
A traditional Hindu temple will take pride of place in the courtyard of the new school, in Harrow, north London. It will have about 240 pupils, with an admissions policy giving priority to practising Hindus.
However, the school was forced to abandon even stricter entry requirements which would have required parents to be vegetarian, teetotal and pray daily if they wanted their children to win a place.
Nitesh Gor, chairman of governors, said there had been no Hindu state school until now because the community had not been ready to take on the responsibility. "It has taken the Hindu community the last few decades to establish its roots in this country.
"There has been no focus on education yet because the school system is a strict statutory regime and only now are we coming up to that level of expertise to say 'we can deliver this'," he said.
Two more Hindu state schools, one in Leicester and one in Barnet, north London, could open in the next few years. There are nearly 7,000 faith schools in Britain – about a third of all state schools. The large majority are Christian, but there are also 37 Jewish, seven Muslim and two Sikh.
Ministers have been sympathetic to the argument put by minority faiths that, given the large numbers of Church of England and Roman Catholic schools, they too should have their own schools.
However, critics claim that separate schools for minority faiths will lead to increased racial segregation in education. The National Secular Society has called the Hindu school an "exercise in religious proselytising" funded by taxpayers.
Pupils of Indian origin, who are mostly Hindu, have a strong record of academic success in British schools. They pass 59 per cent of their GCSEs with grades A to C, compared with only 44 per cent among white pupils.
The head teacher of Krishna-Avanti, Naina Parmar, said that there would be no religious studies lessons, but pupils would learn about "faith nurture". Music, dance and drama lessons will include Indian instruments and styles.
She said: "We are very conscious about the negative attention a state school can get. After 9/11, anything to do with religion or faith is a sensitive issue. It is our duty at the school to promote community cohesion."
The school is also being hailed as one of the most environmentally friendly ever built. It will have solar panels to generate electricity and grass on the roof to keep heat in the building.
Abhimanyu-Das Sircar, 32, an architect from Harrow, will send his four year-old son to the Krishna-Avanti school when it opens in September. He said: "There is a lot of excitement across Europe about this school. People are moving here from India, Germany and France to send their children there."