UK's first Sikh temple school opens its doors

September 8, 2010 by Poonam Taneja ~ BBC Asian Network Source: www.bbc.co.uk
SikhTempleSchool (20K)
Headteacher Kawal Singh gives a tour of the UK's first Sikh temple school

The UK's first school to be established by a Sikh temple has opened at Southall in West London, home to one of the largest Sikh communities in the country.

A special tandoor will cook traditional Punjabi cuisine. And the classrooms of the Khalsa Voluntary Aided Primary School are painted in the Sikh colours of saffron and blue.

The alphabet is carved into the walls in Gurmukhi - the most common script used for writing Punjabi. While the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag, triangular and saffron-coloured, hangs from a tall, stone pole.

"Whatever we teach will be underpinned by Sikh values and ethos," says the new school's headteacher Kawal Singh.

Pupils will study the national curriculum but will also learn the Punjabi language and Sikh history.

Mrs Singh says the pupils will also learn about other faiths and they will celebrate religious festivals including Christmas and Diwali.

And 20% of places are reserved for non-Sikhs.

  Quote (1K)
We will always make sure we are a school in England - we are looking at British Sikhs who are going to be global citizens 

Kawal Singh
Headteacher

"We will always make sure we are a school in England - that we are looking at British Sikhs who are going to be global citizens."

"We have relationships with other schools, which are not Sikh schools, where the children have visited" says Mrs Singh.

"They have visited us in the gurdwara, so we will make sure that we always remain in the mainstream.

There are currently 170 children at the school and it is already oversubscribed.

It will grow as new pupils join the reception class each year, until it reaches capacity of 470.

Although there are three other state-funded Sikh schools in the UK, this is the first to be officially affiliated to a gurdwara.

Sikh Values

Mantej Singh Notay is confident the new school is right for his son Arjun.

"He will mix with teachers that are living by Sikh values. He will mix with teachers that have values of their own, whether they are Sikh or not.

"He can live and learn in the environment we have chosen to send him to because we are comfortable with that environment.

"I was the first child in my school who had a turban and I had problems with that. I had my turban knocked off, I got bullied.

"So for me it is about trying to get him all the knowledge, the ammunition, he needs to live his life as a strong Sikh and also as a strong person in society.

"Coming to a Sikh school, he will get all the educational factors but he will also get with that all the Sikh factors and come out as a better human being as a result of it."

Oversubscribed

A huge, stone arch marks the entrance to the cedar-clad, two-storey building which is in a conservation area.

MSNotay (15K)
Mantej Singh Notay's son will attend the new school

There is a kitchen, garden and woodland trail for the children to explore. School lunches will be strictly vegetarian, in accordance with Sikh teachings.

At the heart of the school is a temple that contains the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib.

Here, pupils will remove their shoes and cover their heads, starting the day with 20 minutes of prayer before lessons.

"There has been pressure for a long time from the community to start a gurdwara school," says Surinder Singh Purewal, the General-Secretary at the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, the largest Sikh temple outside India.

"In India, gurdwaras run schools as well as colleges. In the Sikh holy scriptures, there is a lot of emphasis on educating kids, so that is where it comes from."

The local community raised £5m of the total £12m cost of the new state of the art, environmentally-friendly building, with the remainder of the funding coming from the Department for Education.

And Mr Purewal is confident other Sikh temples will follow their example.

"I know that other gurdwaras are already looking at it. They are thinking of taking a leaf out of this book.

"It can be done and we will give our help and advice to anyone who wants to do it."

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