A Leap of Faith
I am frequently asked by those interested in sending their children to Avanti House School, how the Hindu faith school designation of the school both manifests, day to day, in our two schools settings (primary and secondary) and also how it informs the planning for the new secondary building and renovated primary one.
In so many ways, this is new territory for us all.
Avanti House School is the very first state-funded Hindu faith secondary school in the United Kingdom (with its own primary). Avanti House all-through school, which opened in September 2012, follows on from the opening of a relatively small number of state-funded Hindu primary schools since 2008; in Edgware, Redbridge and Leicester. Avanti House, in common with most of this small number of schools run by the Avanti Schools Trust, does not have any faith-based admissions. Nevertheless, although we are committed to running fully inclusive schools, it remains the case that the overwhelming majority of children in our five settings do originate from a Hindu background and were attracted to the Hindu-faith designation of our schools. Our Vaishnava-Hindu ethos underpins how we intend to develop Spiritual Insight in our students. Spiritual Insight one of the three pillars of the school (Educational Excellence, and Character Formation are the other two).
The Avanti Schools Trust website (www.avanti.org.uk) summarises how we plan to deliver all three pillars – and for Spiritual Insight, the website summarises as follows:
Spiritual insight will be achieved along with the study of Sanskrit, meditation, yoga and through the offering of prasadam (blessed vegetarian food served to students daily), through the following:
- Positive and uplifting experiences of RE and Collective Worship (Both Hindu Foundation but comparative and inclusive)
- Prayer and the singing of the names of God, with special but not exclusive focus on Krishna.
- Opportunities for self-discovery and spiritual exploration.
- Effective pastoral care that supports each students’ personal, emotional and spiritual journey.
- Dedication to working in partnership with other faith schools/organisations to provide students an authentic experience of diverse spiritual traditions.
- Recognition that all of the world’s great spiritual traditions represent the divinity in their distinctive ways.
- Authentic understanding of the world views underpinning various manifestations of religion and spirituality, with stress on their shared essence: a loving reciprocal and personal relationship with the divine.
- Exploration of faith and spirituality across different traditions in a probing and dialogic manner, with constructive critique of practices, philosophies and epistemologies to promote honest and empathetic dialogue.
- Encouragement of students to develop a broad-minded perspective by acknowledging the key roles of free choice, fidelity to tradition and exemplary role models.
- The warm and welcoming enrolment of young people from all backgrounds.
- Preparation of students to make up their own minds on issues of faith and belonging, religious and otherwise.
- Rekindling of an awareness of an essential spiritual identity that unites all living beings, transcending all designations related to age, race, gender, species, faith affiliation and ability.
Of course for the RE and Collective Worship (including meditation) elements of the above, there is always the entitlement for parents to have their children opt-out of either or both – and we look then to provide for those students, from their own traditions where possible, during these times.
Other than the above, the physical manifestation of the tradition, in the new buildings and infrastructure – once we have the primary and secondary schools at their permanent sites, – will include a main shrine (altar) – for collective worship and small shrines, symbolically placed in each classroom – though not routinely used for ceremonial purposes. This very clear ethos, with a firm foundation in Vaishnava Hinduism whilst still promoting an inclusive spirituality, underpinned by a set of values that would rest comfortably in any school setting – secular or faith based, was very attractive to me, when the opportunity, earlier in the year, came around for me to join the Trust and later the school.
For anyone interested in finding out more about our work – as a school and as a Trust, I enjoy showing people around the school – to witness and to talk through our unique vision-in-action – and of course to meet our finest ambassadors, our students and our staff.
The Trust, the school, the Department for Education, our Project Managers (MACE) and the bidding contractors, continue to meet, before and after the break, to further the design of our proposed secondary school at Whitchurch. During these engagement meetings, we continue to draw up the design for a really fantastic provision for the school and local community. Pre-planning meetings are set to be scheduled in the run up to the holiday and into the early part of the new year; prior to the submission to secure planning permission. Meanwhile, the EFA (part of the Department for Education) are still endeavouring to secure the best provisioned, empty school site to accommodate our secondary school for 14-18 months from September 2015 whilst, subject to planning permission, the site at Whitchurch is built. Their aim is to provide us with a site that is well provisioned for over 500 key stage 3 and 4 students whilst minimising disruption to parents driving or sending their children to school. I am in further meetings this coming week, in an effort to move this critical agenda forward. As soon as I have something substantial and more definitive to report, I shall certainly do that.
It was with great regret that I had to pull together the dozens of students who were planning to perform at our Winter Concert this week to announce its postponement, hopefully into the early part of the new term. Ms. Chand, our music teacher, who has almost single-handedly planned the event has regrettably been signed off for another week meaning that all-important, last-minute preparations cannot go ahead. There is simply nobody with the knowledge or the skills to step in and pick it up; such are the challenges of a still small, whilst fast-growing school. We wish Ms. Chand a very speedy recovery and look forward to something of a rising from the ashes of the Winter Concert in the early Spring. Our students who perform so well and throw themselves completely into all that they do- they deserve the best, and we can all look forward to seeing their wonderful talents at play in the early part of the new year.
Reception Open Evening
Next week, on Tuesday 9th December from 6:45pm we look forward to welcoming parents and carers of children looking to join the Reception year at Avanti House from September 2015. The Open Evening for prospective Reception year children will be held at our Common Road site (currently hosting our secondary children). This is, of course, where we hope to move our primary school in the coming months. If you are coming along, I, alongside the incoming Head of Primary Phase (Richard Halliday) and our newly appointed Deputy Principal, Nadira Morris amongst others, look forward to meeting some of you.
Thought for the Week: Right Speech
By way of a reflection on communication and how we all can use our speech in particular, to create harmony at one extreme and chaos at the other, I end with a quote from the Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 17 – an inspiring quote which also has echoes in the Buddhist concept of ‘Right Speech’ and no doubt, in different ways, in the tenets of all the great religions of the world (and just plain common sense).
Have a great week.
Austerity of speech consists in speaking truthfully and beneficially and in avoiding speech that offends.