Britain’s First Hindu School
Krishna Avanti, a name that will go down in British history as the first Hindu school established through state and private funds to promote high quality education within a framework of Hindu values and ethos.
Background to Education in England:
There are some 17, 064 Primary Schools, 3,225 Secondary Schools, 1,058 Special Schools, 2356 Independent Schools and 133 Academies. In total there are around 24, 737 schools of all types in England. Of these, faith schools represent 6,384 Primary Schools and 589 Secondary schools. Breaking this down further there are 4,716 that are Church of England, 2,108 Roman Catholic, 37 Jewish, seven Muslim, two Sikh, one Greek Orthodox and one Seventh Day Adventist. No Hindu schools.
It was the Labour Party when elected in 1997 that brought in the law which for the first time allowed people of other faiths to also aspire to have their own faith schools. Until then all state faith schools were Christian or Jewish.
The Road to Krishna
The brain child is that of the I-Foundation, an organisation set up to establish sustainable projects that further the advancement of Vedic culture and philosophy. In pursuit of their aims, the foundation contributed around £2 million so that if accepted by the Governments’ education department, they could then harness a subsidy of more than £10 million to help build the school. It has also secured the support of its faith partner, ISKCON (UK) which will underpin the Vedic and Hindu values of the school.
Ground breaking ceremony
The road to Krishna led the foundation to Harrow. Harrow has the highest Hindu concentration of any borough in the United Kingdom and home to over 40,000 Hindus. This represents 19.6% of the Harrow population compared to 47.3% Christian, 6.3% Jewish and 7.2% Muslim. This makes Hindus the second largest religious group in Harrow, and the largest ethnic group. Yet, there was no faith based schooling provision for the Hindu community in the locality.
Commenting on this the leading Hindu Peer, Lord Dholakia, said, “It is simply not sustainable for Hindu parents to be excluded from often outstanding faith-based educational opportunities already available to Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. The I-Foundation’s plans offer the opportunity to put right this inadvertent wrong.”
Giving support was Cllr David Ashton, Leader of Harrow Council who said, “We have been pleased to support the establishment of the country’s first state funded Hindu primary school in Harrow, both at the planning stage and then by offering temporary classrooms for its pupils while this outstanding site was built.”
What about the name?
Did you know that during his presence on this planet, Lord Krishna also went to school? Yes of course, and it was in a place called Avanti. Hence with the name ‘Krishna-Avanti’.
What did it take to build it?
The whole project was completed within 15 months; it was on time and even more interesting, on budget also. The building will get 70% of its heating from ground source heat pumps – that is right, it will recycle heat from the ground so that it is used in the school.
The Temple is build from Makrana marble carved in Makrana itself. It has wonderful teak doors and the altar is from Ujjain. The outside temple walls have carvings of Dasavatar and Krishna lila with the inside walls covered with carvings of stories from the Srimad Bhagavatam.
Facilities at the school
The School offers children an eco-friendly state-of-the-art building and facilities to encourage learning and play. The sedum roof classrooms are equipped on the inside with the best of modern technology, including interactive white boards and laptop access.
The classrooms are also designed to optimise light, acoustic and ventilation levels so that children have an ideal learning environment all year round. It also houses a designated ITC suite for distinct ITC lessons and a special Creative Space lab, ideal for cooking and science lessons. All these core teaching areas have been designed with the concept of seamless flow between classroom and outdoor teaching provision.
Music and drama form an important aspect of the School’s curriculum with a designated music and drama room. This small hall adjoins both the main hall (gym) and the marble temple where collective worship will take place on daily basis.
Sports facilities at the school are vast and cutting edge. There is a large all weather pitch ideal for football or rugby any time of the year, a grass pitch for hockey and tennis, an indoor gym for gymnastics, basketball and other indoor sports, and several different adventure play areas catered to the different key stage groups. For older classes, there is also a separate girls changing area.
The landscaping provides for various different learning facilities. Some of these facilities include a pond, wildlife gardens and an outdoor amphitheatre.
The catering facilities include a kitchen capable of providing fresh, hot, healthy vegetarian meals for children of Krishna-Avanti, and other nearby schools if required.
What do people say about the school?
Nitesh Gor, the Chair of Governors said, “In only our second year, we had five applicants for every two places. We combine the ethical values and moral discipline which accompany faith education with a willingness to engage with the world beyond and prepare our children to play a full part in British society.”
Elena Beltran-Clarke (parent) said, “Krishna-Avanti School offers to our child the rare opportunity to grow and develop at all levels: socially, emotionally, academically and especially spiritually.”
The Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP (Chairman, Home Affairs Committee and Chairman, Ethnic Minority Task Force) said, “The Labour government made a historic decision when it came to power in 1997 to open up the faith schools sector to people of all faiths. By doing so, it allowed for equality and equity regardless of one’s faith. Krishna Avanti represents the realisation of the aspirations of the Hindu community which has contributed so magnificently to the United Kingdom. It’s a proud day for both the Hindu community and also for the nation to see such superb facilities being made available within the ethos of Hindu values.”
The Conservative Party leader, David Cameron said, “I’m in favour of choice and discretion. I think that actually drives up quality and standards in our education system.
Faith schools often bring a culture and an ethos to a school that can help them improve. I’m a supporter politically and personally.”
So all three political parties in the UK have now come to a shared belief that allowing other faith communities to have their own schools is not only unavoidable, but positively a requirement for the betterment of educational provision in the country.
And what do I think?
As an ex-inspector of schools in the UK, and a Hindu advising a number of national organisations – I of course do have an insider view on the events that are unfolding. Whilst there existed several thousand Christian and Jewish faith schools in the UK, it was unacceptable to continue with the practice of not allowing other faiths the same right under the law. Therefore giving this right was the first step towards realising equality in practice.
Having a right is one thing, exercising that right for the betterment of society is of course a totally different challenge. Faith communities have a challenge on their hands to not only establish some of the best schools in the country, but to also ensure that any particular faith ideology does not highjack the core educational aims of a school. The Hindu community is of course blessed in that the core elements of Santhan Dharma are so universal that the emergent core values and ethos will no doubt attract people of all faiths.
The Hindu (Indian) community have shown that when it comes to educational excellence, we are second to none and in the vast majority of cases, our children will normally top most classes. However, education for the acquisition of paper certificates and bragging rights of how many degrees one has got is not in itself sufficient for a full and meaningful life. The formation of one’s character based on solid values is fundamental to how we as a society develop over the coming decades. The world has lost its moral and ethical compass – maybe the children of tomorrow having gone through an educational experience at one of the faith schools might be better placed to guide the planet to a better future.
For the time being, Krishna Avanti stands on the green fields of England. Proud of its tradition, cultural heritage and faith. Ready to meet the needs of the children and to contribute to the richness of our diverse society and towards helping to build good relations with all communities.