By David Simister
Plans to transfer the Maharishi School into the state sector have been criticised by a teachers' union who claim it will come at the price of education elsewhere.
The Lancashire branch of the National Union of Teachers, claim making it a publicly-funded state school from September would drain as much as £360,000 of funding from other schools across Lancashire.
The union also says the Maharishi movement's links to the Natural Law Party would see public money spent on a school “run by a political party.”
NUT West Lancs area secretary Neil Hancox said: “After this money has been taken away from Lancashire schools to pay fees for a private school, there will be no accountability over how the money is spent.
"I fail to see how the foundation of a free school to fund the education of the members of a religious sect will improve the life chances of most pupils in the Skelmersdale area when important support grants have been removed from other schools.
“Indeed the Maharishi movement has a political party (the Natural Law Party). So what we are seeing is a publicly funded school run by what is in effect a political party.”
The school, on Cobbs Brow Lane, will be change to being state-funded under the Coalition Government's free schools scheme, championed by education secretary Michael Gove.
The school encourages its pupils to meditate twice a day using techniques taught under the Maharishi movement, made famous when The Beatles adopted its teachings.
A spokesperson for the school responded with the following statement:
"We are sorry that the NUT is opposed to the idea of the Maharishi School being state-funded, although we understand their position given the backdrop of wide-ranging government cuts. For us it is a welcome initiative, as we do not fall into a 'typical' independent school profile; we are not an 'exam, factory', do not select on ability and traditionally our families are not in the higher earning bracket that one associates with private education. In fact many families have made considerable sacrifices to send their children here and the school has a widely used assisted place scheme. The Maharishi School has not been an independent school by ethos but simply because this was the only way, until now, to offer our unique and highly effective system of education, Consciousness-based Education.
"The quality of the education offered at Maharishi School is borne out by its many achievements. Although the school is not academically selective the pupils enjoy impressive GCSE results and the school has been top in Lancashire a number of times. Maharishi School pupils have also excelled in national maths, poetry and science competitions. The school’s 2009 Ofsted report surpassed its previous, outstanding, report, with the word “outstanding” being used 11 times. Inspectors commented on the nourishing environment and teaching approaches which help to make the school an enjoyable place in which to learn.
"We are happy that a successful Free School application would enable the Maharishi School to make Consciousness-based Education available to all those who want it, irrespective of social or financial background. Surely this can only be good news for Skelmersdale which has been making great strides recently in the field of education. Not only are there three great secondary schools with improving academic results, many primary schools in the area are also rated as outstanding by Ofsted and it won’t be long until the new Skelmersdale College building is complete. We are proud to be playing our part in this story of local success and in fact, news of our Free School application has already generated many enquiries from pleased, local parents.
"To answer some of the specific points raised by the NUT – our experience has been that there is accountability in the way government funding is spent. The final part of the application process is the presentation of a business case, which will include a comprehensive expenditure breakdown. Similarly, if the Government is, at any time, not happy with the running of the school, it will have the power to take it over. Maharishi School has a 25 year track record of good financial management and submits audited accounts to Companies House and the Charities Commission.
"The Maharishi School is not a sect, religious or otherwise. The school is non-denominational and has an open admissions policy, accepting pupils from any faith, or none at all and there are currently pupils attending the school from a number of religious backgrounds. Transcendental Meditation, the simple mental technique utilised at the school as part of Consciousness-based Education is not a religious practice. It is just a technique, not dependent on any belief or particular ability, which has been subject to hundreds of scientific studies, many of them conducted at independent medical and research institutes and published in peer reviewed journals. Contrary to the TES link in the NUT’s statement, a number of these studies have been carried out in educational settings.
"The NUT refer to the school being run, “in effect by a political party”, which is also incorrect. The school has always been run by an independent charitable company which has never had links to any political party, although established political figures from both major political parties have visited the school and appreciated the unique quality of what it offers. Similarly, Maharishi School has never had any connection to the Natural Law Party (NLP), although the party promoted some of the techniques for developing Consciousness employed at the school. We are also led to believe the NLP no longer exists, having apparently disbanded about 10 years ago."
Lancashire County Council said it did not expect the school's move to the state sector to divert funding from other schools.
A spokesman said: “Funding for Lancashire County Council schools comes directly from central government and is based on the number of pupils in each school.
"Therefore, we would only expect to loose funding if a free school draws pupils away from schools run by the authority. The Maharishi School is an existing independent school and is not proposing a significant expansion in numbers. Therefore we do not expect it to have an impact on funding for other schools in the area."