August 1 2014 Latest news:
by Laura Burnip, Senior reporter
Thursday, July 10, 2014
The headteacher of a Hindu school at the centre of a row over school places has broken his silence – urging angry prospective Muslim and Christian parents to visit the school to become “better informed”.
Avanti Court Primary School in Barkingside hit the headlines after non-Hindu children were offered places at the school after being overlooked for their six preferred choices.
Speaking to the Recorder, headteacher James Biddulph said the school valued the diversity of its pupils, but would be sticking to its controversial “no meat” policy, meditation and yoga lessons.
The Recorder has also unearthed a report published last week of an investigation carried out by the Avanti Schools Trust following complaints from parents that it does not “operate strongly enough as a Hindu faith school”.
Mr Biddulph said: “We are an inclusive state-funded school and our ethos is about respecting the diverse world views in our communities, including other faiths.
“My message to parents would be come and visit the school, meet our children and staff, spend time in classrooms and I hope that parents will feel better informed about the inclusive nature of our school.”
But he stood by the school’s no meat policy, with children not allowed to bring their own lunches.
“We do not see anything wrong with a vegetarian diet,” he added.
While only a quarter of places are reserved for Hindus at the school, around 70 per cent of pupils practise the religion.
The recent investigation by Avanti Schools Trust director of education Usha Sahni and associate consultant Richard Sachse was sparked by complaints from 18 parents over concerns about a “culture of bullying” at the school.
But the report said Mrs Sahni and Mr Sachse had found no evidence to back up the claims.
Mr Biddulph, who was given the role when the school opened two years ago, said: “I felt concerned that there were parents unhappy that the Hindu faith dimension of the school wasn’t strong enough but welcomed their feedback.”
He said he “fully welcomed” the report’s recommendations, which include extending the teaching of Sanskrit to all pupils except Reception and teaching music and performing arts which reflect “cultural heritage and faith traditions”.