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  • Sikh school opens in Birmingham. Bad idea?

    by Sunny
    10th September, 2011 at 9:03 am    

    The Guardian reports that one opened this week:

    The school, which will have compulsory Punjabi lessons for all pupils, has been a labour of love and duty for Birmingham’s 200,000-strong Sikh community. Sikhs as old as 90 and as young as five have helped strip floorboards and paint, says principal-designate Ranjit Singh Dhanda.

    He says that one of the core concepts of the Sikh faith is Daswand – donating a minimum of a tenth of your earnings, time, knowledge and prayers to a noble cause or a social service.

    Some 130 members of the community have helped, unpaid, on a daily or weekly basis. They include Amardip Singh Suri, manager of a plastics factory, who has come after work almost every day when the workmen leave, to sweep up until the early hours.

    Nice in theory, but I’m increasingly against the idea of religious schools - I think they have too much potential to segregate on religious lines. Religious schools should at least have a quarter of students from different backgrounds.

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    1. sunny hundal

      Blogged: : Sikh school opens in Birmingham. Bad idea?

    2. Pete

      RT@sunny_hundal: Sikh school opens in Birmingham. Bad idea?>*All* religious schools are bad idea - keep educ secular

    3. Tim Buckley

      Blogged: : Sikh school opens in Birmingham. Bad idea?

    4. Jacqui Dickson

      Blogged: : Sikh school opens in Birmingham. Bad idea?

    1. damon — on 10th September, 2011 at 10:51 am  

      I’d be all for it, but just have them be twinned with another school for things like sports, art and music perhaps. I have the idea that a Sikh school will be so different to a local Birmingham compreshensive, that everything about the children will be different.
      And probably for the better.

    2. Dr Paul — on 10th September, 2011 at 3:16 pm  

      Just what we need, another way to divide kids off from one another on religious terms. Aren’t there enough divisions within society without adding to them? It’s time to strip religious affiliation from education once and for all.

    3. Jai — on 10th September, 2011 at 5:35 pm  

      I’m increasingly against the idea of religious schools – I think they have too much potential to segregate on religious lines. Religious schools should at least have a quarter of students from different backgrounds.

      The Guardian’s full article includes the following statements:

      But while, so far, it has been Sikhs who have mainly sponsored and volunteered to get the school off the ground, the headteacher, Narinder Brach, is emphatic that this primary is open to all.

      Brach, who has been a teacher for 30 years and was until recently an education lecturer at Birmingham City University, says Nishkam is “not here to convert people”.

      She adds: “We don’t want this school to be seen as a Sikh school; we want a community school open to all faiths and races.”

      …If there are more applicants than places, the school will pick Sikh children, but only up to half of all pupils.

      At present, it has a waiting list only for its reception class. Of its eight teachers and six “associate teachers”, half are Sikh.

    4. Don — on 10th September, 2011 at 7:10 pm  

      I agree in principle that religion should be kept out of schools, but in practice that isn’t going to happen any time soon. But we need serious regulation and oversight.

      ‘Up to half’ seems reasonable.

    5. Jagraj Singh — on 10th September, 2011 at 8:29 pm  

      Fair enough that people may be against faith schools but why just moan about Sikhs having one…just cause you is Sikh Sunny?
      It may have skipped your notice that of the 24 free schools that opened, 2 are Jewish, around 3 are Christian, 1 is primarily Muslim and 2 are Hindu. One of the other schools makes Latin compulsory till 14. Now here is the key, Parental Choice!
      Parents get to choose where their kids are taught and the rich can usually exercise that choice, whilst most lower income people make the best of a (usually) bad deal. The fact that the Tory govt has allowed such people to set up schools free from excessive bureaucracy and run on different ethos simply means more choice for the poor…a choice they would not have if the moral high ground people decide what they should be allowed to do, whilst quietly ignoring the fact that the likes of Ampleforth already do this for semi rich catholic kids.
      Personally I’d rather my kids learn raag kirtan in music class, learn Gurbani as an additional language and learn shaster vidiya during PE. I doubt they would get this outside of a sikh ethos free school.

    6. persephone — on 10th September, 2011 at 11:04 pm  

      I’ve always believed true sikhism was more a way of life. And tolerance of all beliefs. So having this seems to me a retrogade step.

      I just hope the children do not grow up too insular - after all they are from birmingham anyway - surely a location where they get enough exposure to sikh culture.

    7. damon — on 11th September, 2011 at 12:42 am  

      Birmingham Sikh nursery is a little school of calm

      That might just be the nursery school, but I like the sound of that place. I may be wrong, but I’m guessing that a Sikh school would be very differnt to a neighbouring Handsworth school. I have the idea that adult moral authority would be much evident at a Sikh school. In regular secondry comprehensives, pupil behavior is often a major issue, and I think the Sikh people would insist on their children having a good attitude.
      And for non-Sikhs at the school, it could also be a better environment than your average comprehensive with it’s rough culture. It’s best to do everything possible to not produce the kinds of young people who rioted and looted in august.

    8. Fugstar — on 11th September, 2011 at 2:07 am  

      good luck to them

      may their institution nurture fine people

    9. Shamit — on 11th September, 2011 at 9:15 pm  

      I am for whatever works. Whatever we say the comprehensives have not done a stellar job, in fact we have failed generations.

      Academies have proven to improve education standards and pupil achievement outcomes - and the biggest improvement came from students from the most vulnerable backgrounds in the inner cities.

      In my opinion, the free schools are a good idea especially when a part of their funding would be determined by the number of pupils on free meals.

      However, on faith schools, I share Sunny’s reservations but if Ofsted and the Department of Education do their job right and ensure the curriculum is not divisve and appropriate for our country - I am all for something that would create opportunities for some more kids to learn in a safe learning environment.

      And incidentally, I was in Birmingham a few weeks and attended a community dinner in relation to this school which was organised by the Gurudwara - the comments made by everyone associated with the school did not seem like they envisioned a brain washing school instead it was more about fellowship, respect, understanding and learning.

      So I would be watchful rather than condemning their existence outright.

    10. Don — on 11th September, 2011 at 11:02 pm  

      Academies have proven to improve education standards and pupil achievement outcomes

      Proven? I’d like to see that evidence.

      In my opinion, the free schools are a good idea especially when a part of their funding would be determined by the number of pupils on free meals.

      I’m not sure I get your point. What is the connection?

    11. Shamit — on 11th September, 2011 at 11:26 pm  

      There are quite a few reports by the Cross party Public Accounts Committee and Public Administration Committees of the House of Commons. If you want I would get those links sorted out for you and published them here by tomorrow evening.


      The connection is social mobility - the first bunch of academies came in the most deprived areas in inner cities in England - and there was concerns that mose of those positions were filled by middle class pupils.

      However, the evidence again suggests otherwise. But this coalition government has made it legally possible for academies and free schools to discriminate in favour of children from the poorest families so those parents can exercise some choice that have been practiced by Harriet Harman, Dianne Abbott, or having the luxury of living in middle class enclaves so go to Haverstock.

      And the pupil premium encourages these schools to take in more pupils from deprived backgrounds.

      Now you work out the connection -


    12. Shamit — on 11th September, 2011 at 11:33 pm

      ” The Committee notes the National Audit Office’s value for money conclusion and welcomes the impressive progress made by the Programme of sponsored academies to date. These academies have improved pupils’ educational achievements and life chances in some of the most deprived communities in the country.”

      I can find about four other reports from independent groups and MPs and voluntary sector supportin those conclusions. In fact despite the vilification by many on the so called left and teaching unions (who are clearly a vested interest), the academy programme (under Blair) has been one of the biggest public policy successes in recent times.

      Thats a fact - unions can beat it with a stick but their objections reek of protecting their own self interest and not really the interest of the pupils.

      Hence I support the academy and free school programmes and all those in the left should support it because it somewhat levels the playing field when it comes to opportunities for the some of the most deprived children among us.

    13. rather stay anon — on 12th September, 2011 at 10:33 am  

      I’d rather stay anon for this comment, but I’ve just come off doing extensive research into caste discrimination within Sikh communities across London and Birmingham. It’s a genuine issue, with those who are identified as being Ravidassia being discriminated against - in schools by sikh teachers, by those who provide care, by those who choose to socially boycott them.

      Much as Sikhism is anti-caste as a religion, Sikhs often seem to discriminate against caste, especially when they are in positions of authority. I’d be worried that these children imbibe the same values, not through curriculum, but through the banter that exists in schools between teachers and students.

    14. Don — on 12th September, 2011 at 10:35 pm  

      Shamit, really I don’t want to put you to too much trouble. You spend a lot more time around government publications than I do.

      But when a government report concludes that ‘These academies have improved pupils’ educational achievements and life chances in some of the most deprived communities in the country.”, where do they put the link to the actual figures, the progress made, the value added and so on? The context, the actual research rather than a self-congratulationary paragraph?

      It was probably there, I just couldn’t find it.

      It seems that not only do you support this programme but that you support to an intense degree. Those who disagree are self-evidently so-called left, self-interested, unprincipled bounders who, if they are teachers, have no interest in the welfare of their pupils.

      Well, that takes care of them, don’t it?

      the academy programme (under Blair) has been one of the biggest public policy successes in recent times.

      That’s an interesting assertion, but can you direct me to the figures? I will understand them, I just spent two hours after work doing data analysis on value-added performance against targets and national norms and will spend a lot more before October.

      So please don’t put yourself out finding MP’s reports, or voluntary sector publications, although obviously I’ll read them if you do. But a link to the actual data would be more helpful.

    15. persephone — on 12th September, 2011 at 11:14 pm  

      rather stay anon

      can you share this research?

    16. damon — on 12th September, 2011 at 11:23 pm  

      I wonder if they would get into any of this race/culture bind when trying to set a standard for what came into the school and what they tried to keep outside.

      A London school’s ban of the cornrows hairstyle resulted in “unlawful, indirect racial discrimination”, the High Court has ruled.

      If not hair styles, then the way the children spoke english. Not approving of the street accent seeping into the classroom.

    17. Don — on 13th September, 2011 at 12:47 am  


      Stop wondering, just say what you mean. Haircuts? Expand. Preferably in actual sentences, explain how hair style is an issue.

    18. Shamit — on 13th September, 2011 at 1:03 am  


      On the contrary, I think most teachers care a hell of a lot about their pupils but are often constrained by various factors (which are mostly beyond their control) to do their job properly.

      In addition, too much emphasis has been put on teachers’ responsibility. I am all for state schools to have the right environment, right infrastructure and funding to teach children.

      But the fact of the matter is that despite billions in public spending on education on both sides of the Atlantic - the results have been poor and lets not kid ourselves. So if there is a way to improve life chances of at least some children (if we cannot do it for all the children) I want to support those moves.

      On the self interest note - the best case example is Wales. Where teaching unions along with the then Labour administration in Cardiff, decided to drop school league tables following devolution the result has been abysmal where pupils in Wales are far behind than any other UK nations. This is a statistical fact which academics have argued has significantly hindered the Welsh economy.

      And unless you can diagnose a problem you can’t fix it - argued the current Welsh education minister (a labour minister) as he unveiled plans to group schools in clusters based on their performance. So it was reinstated in some way but in the meantime, the pupils were let down for a decade. But somehow teaching unions think any attempt to be transparent about school performance is simply wrong and unacceptable. That is where I think the self interest part comes into play more than the future of the children.

      But teachers have been victims of political correctness running amok where they were not allowed to separate pupils even when they were fighting. Teachers being raped in our schools is appalling and the situation should have never come to that.

      So I am not against teachers but I do have some problems with some of the leadership and language used by some of the teaching unions.

      My simple argument is that if we have found a way which improves life chances and educational achievements of some of the most deprived students - lets use them.

      Grammar schools were a very successful social mobility tool albeit it was unfair - but the academy and the free school system can probably be an equally good catalyst to drive social mobility without the flawed assumption that you need to differentiate pupils at the age of 11.


      The report I referred to was not a government report but a report from the cross party Public Administration Committee led by Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP.

      The PAC has direct supervision responsibilities over the work of the National Audit Office and the committee was responding to a detailed report by the NAO on the academies.

      I would find that link and there are some pretty good statistical details along with trends (if I remember it correctly).


    19. damon — on 13th September, 2011 at 1:50 am  

      Well Don. You don’t get the hairstyles thing?
      It’s pretty obvious. The school didn’t like that style, but the case went to court and got deemed a cultural issue. Uniforms, hair, speech paterns and accents are things that a school might want to have some say over. If you want your school to be a completely different place to the local secular multi-cultural working class Handsworth school up the road.

      I’m not sure a Sikh school could work if too many of it’s students were behaving like the kids from a neighbouring comprehensive. To get people to be quiet and meditate and pray and take in complex and subtle religious ideas, you can’t be dealing with people who behave like the young people at Jamie Oliver’s Dream School did. They only had ten second attention spans.

      Not allowing ostentatious hairstyles might be a place to start at.

    20. Sarah AB — on 13th September, 2011 at 7:16 am  

      People at my children’s school have that ‘cornrows’ style - I hadn’t even thought about it until I read the news story when it first came out - but it can look perfectly smart (both boys and girls).

    21. damon — on 13th September, 2011 at 10:51 am  

      Indeed Sarah. My point was, that in a school that was trying to do something very different to a regular school nearby - in inner city Birmingham, it would be a difficult struggle to keep out the culture and attitudes that pervade locally. Indeed it might be impossible for the school to be how it’s founders wish, if too many of the children were from non-Sikh backgrounds. Also, I don’t know how appropriate it would be. My catholic school had some non-catholics at it, but it wasn’t a big deal because the school wasn’t very religious and the non-catholics just didn’t go to mass on holy days when we did. I have this idea of a Sikh school wanting to be more infused with aspects of the religion. Maybe it’s better that this one is only a primary school, because it would be harder with older non-sikh children.

    22. Dr Paul — on 13th September, 2011 at 1:02 pm  

      RE Jagraj Singh’s at # 5. I was not complaining about the opening of a Sikh school in and of itself; I was saying that it is time that religion and education are separated, and that schools are not affiliated to this or that or any religion.

      By all means learn about the religions of the world (in an unprejudiced way), but I cannot see what one’s religion has to do with one’s education.

    23. Wibble — on 13th September, 2011 at 5:40 pm  

      Well, Jamie’s Dream school was entertainment - hence, the concentration on moments of pupil “Vicky Pollard” behaviour and childish behaviour by (ahem) one of the “teachers”. A parliamentary group even looked into lessons learnt from the program - the Head was at pains to point out that it was primarily entertainment so he was unable to apply discipline in the way he would in a real school, and when the students actually got on with the work it did not make good television.

      Oh, and Don @ 14 excellent comments ! Presumably, if Academies and Free Schools start to have problems (there are some on the link provided by Shamit e.g. Sponsors not wanting to pay what they owe) then a future government might decide something like local needs are best fulfiled by a central local authority taking care of providing common services and a local strategy!

      Free schools look like a way for “All Must Have Prizes” (Must All Have Prizes? when, actually, it should only be my children) parents to set up their own schools.

    24. damon — on 14th September, 2011 at 4:50 pm  

      Well, Jamie’s Dream school was entertainment – hence, the concentration on moments of pupil “Vicky Pollard” behaviour and childish behaviour by (ahem) one of the “teachers”.

      OK. I’m still unaware though how this school will work with non-Sikh children. This one is only a primary school so it’s not so crucial, but in a high school with mixed Sikh and non-Sikh children, I really don’t know how it would work. By watering down the religious element like mixed Christian schools do? My school was Catholic in name only really and I can’t remember many of my schoolmates taking the religious aspect seriously.

      Or could you have a situation where there were times in the day when the children of a particular faith (or none) went off and did their own thing?

      Maybe in a particular religious building in the school.
      I don’t actually think that’s too far fetched and might be a decent compromise.
      But in a multi-cultural high school, it couldn’t be too different to a regular inner-city Birmingham school I think, as that would be unfair on the children who were not of the main religion/culture of the school.

    25. rather stay anon — on 16th September, 2011 at 2:57 pm  

      The link for one of the bigger caste studies recently

    26. persephone — on 17th September, 2011 at 12:37 am  

      @ 25 rather stay anon

      Thanks for the link

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