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Monday, 5 March, 2001, 08:40 GMT
Sums and chants at Buddhist school
school assembly
Chanting is part of assembly at the Buddhist school
As the government tries to encourage more church-run schools, Linda Duffin visits an unusual religious school.

A golden statue of the Buddha gleams softly, surrounded by flowers, a candle and incense.

In front of him 70 children sit, cross-legged, their eyes tight shut, meditating in silence.

Then a bell chimes and the pupils of the Dharma School launch into a Tibetan chant.

A Buddhist shrine
A Buddhist shrine
This is a school founded on Buddhist doctrine, but it is not in Dharamsala or Tibet.

The Dharma School is in Brighton in southern England and it is the only Buddhist school in Britain.

It was founded by a group of British Buddhists who wanted their beliefs to permeate their children's schooling as well as their home life.

The school started off in a parent's sitting room and expanded into its present home, an old house on the edge of Brighton.

Its headmaster is Kevin Fossey, who like the other teachers is a practising Buddhist.

Five Buddhist principles

He and his staff don't evangelise, he says, but try to infuse Buddhist principles by example: "The philosophy of the school is really based on the basic Buddhist principles, the five precepts.

Kevin Fossey
Head teacher Kevin Fossey

"The fact that everything is impermanent, that everything is inter-dependent, and trying to work with that with the children in our care so that we give them the very best, not only in an education that is solidly academic, but also which is spiritual, moral and ethical as well. "

Only about half of the pupils are from Buddhist families. The rest are from a variety of religious and secular backgrounds.

The fees for this private school are 3,000 a year, but there is a long waiting list.

It teaches the English national curriculum but much more besides: Honesty, respect for all life, co-operation, concentration, self-discipline and resourcefulness.

Henry says people at his school are kind and patient

Lisa Joffe, who is not a Buddhist, sent her daughter here a year ago and says the child has blossomed: "The values here really reflected my own, and that was to encourage people to be themselves, to express themselves.

"There's a climate of compassion, I was really moved by the people that I met and their focus on respecting the children and requiring that respect back, that reciprocal exchange."

And the pupils seem to love the school. Kate used to go to a local primary: "It was really big and the people weren't nice and the teachers were really strict and they shouted a lot!"

Lisa Joffe
"There's a climate of compassion", says Lisa Joffe, parent
Henry was the Dharma School's first-ever pupil (it began in his mother's sitting room. He has tried both forms of schooling.

And he knows which he prefers: "Because people are Buddhist here, they've got more sense of kindness, so people are a lot more patient, I'd say."

The school's head, Mr Fossey, is standing down at the end of this year and the search is on for his replacement.

Whoever takes the job will need one extra, rather special qualification - only Buddhists need apply.

Linda Duffin reports
"This is a school founded on Buddhist doctrine"
See also:

12 Feb 01 | Education
Religious schools to increase
27 Dec 00 | Education
Embracing the faiths
03 Jul 00 | Education
Religion pulls in GCSE students
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