The pioneering new Buddhist school that invites pupils to be happy
WITH teachers who have flown in from across the world and meditation sessions punctuating the day, it is clear that the Kadampa Primary School will be a little bit different.
The independent school in Etwall opened its doors to pupils for the first time earlier this month and 15 have already enrolled, with a further eight applications being processed.
Teachers have travelled from as far away as America and Mexico to be a part of the pioneering new school, which has a curriculum that incorporates Buddhist teachings.
And those behind the venture, near the established Tara Buddhist Centre, have set themselves the lofty ambition of being "the best school in the world".
The school's literature states that children will "learn the skills of how to be happy".
Head teacher Ratna Kelsang, 40, is an ordained Buddhist herself and was head of Mousehole Primary School in Cornwall for four years before moving to Derbyshire.
"I was asked to set up this project here and it seemed like a plan for the best school in the world to me," she said.
"Our basic aim is to teach children that, if they are happy, they can achieve their potential and benefit others around them.
"We are not trying to turn them into Buddhists but we do want to nurture spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, with time for meditation and reflection."
The teachers at Etwall will tell you that you do not need to shave your head and wear orange robes to be a Buddhist.
Ratna Kelsang wears her robes, which are part of her Buddhist culture, outside school hours. But at school she wears ordinary clothing.
"It's not something normal to wear robes in society, so we keep things easy here," she said. "We felt the children would feel more comfortable if we approached things in a normal way.
"We want it to be a normal, excellent school and to be accessible to everyone.
"Our aim is to teach all the children to key stage one and two levels and meet Ofsted requirements. We intend to keep them in line with or above their age-expected levels.
"In our opinion, education is not just about the children getting A grades, because A grades don't guarantee a happy life. A happy mind is what helps us have a happy life.
"Every parent wants their child to be happy. That is their wish and the wish of our school."
The school's founders say it is the first in the world to follow the works of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, a meditation master and internationally renowned teacher of Buddhism who established the new Kadampa tradition.
Kadampa Buddhism presents teachings in a manner intended to be suitable for the modern world. One of its aims is to teach people to deal with daily life with a calm and peaceful mind, no matter what the circumstances.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso was born in Tibet and has founded more than 1,200 meditation centres around the world and is the author of 21 books.
Etwall's Kadampa Primary School has capacity for 100 children from the age of three to 12. Before it could open its doors on September 3, the school went through the standard Ofsted approval process.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: "The Education Act requires Ofsted to inspect an institution that has applied to be entered onto the register of independent schools.
"Ofsted then reports to the Secretary of State on the extent to which the school is likely to meet or is not likely to meet the independent school standards once it is open.
"At the end of the inspection, the inspector should feed back to the headteacher or principal their judgement of the school's readiness for registration, making clear where a regulation is not likely to be met, and what must be done to improve.
"Inspectors should take account of any plans with clear steps or milestones and a proposed timeline by when changes will be made when they make their judgements."
Kadampa Primary will use the National Curriculum for primary education but meditation will be a part of every school day.
After registration, the pupils drop their school bags on the floor, slip their shoes off and leave them outside the classroom.
They sit cross-legged on plump cushions on the carpet and take part in a breathing meditation. This is guided by one of the teachers and lasts between 10 and 15 minutes. They repeat this after their lunch break, at 1pm each day, to prepare for their afternoon lessons.
Teacher John-David Kelley, 29, has come from Florida to be a part of the new school.
He said: "To be able to do meditation with my colleagues and get the opportunity to use my skills on finding peaceful minds with children is really great."
Another teacher, Raka Ghaderi, 44, from Liverpool, said: "I have always wanted to be able to incorporate meditation into the children's day. It's not been possible before, but now it's great to teach them after lunch.
"It's a rejuvenating experience and they are much more receptive to the learning experience after meditating."
Victoria Kocher, 42, has travelled from Sarasota, in the USA, and brought her son Dylan, 10, with her to be a pupil.
She said: "I was at a Buddhist festival in the Lake District two years ago and heard about the project back then.
"I just followed the wish for it to happen and here we are. It's amazing and I feel very lucky to be involved."
Ordained Buddhist Nampur Kelsang, 28, is the lead teacher and has arrived from Mexico to start the term.
She said: "It's wonderful to have such a mix of cultures and beliefs."
The teachers are not the only ones who have upped sticks to attend the school.
Lucia Zalbidea lived in Kilburn, London, until the beginning of term. The 42-year-old and husband Carlos have moved north so they can register children Celina, seven, and Ignacio, nine, at the school.
Lucia said she had dabbled with yoga but never tried meditation. She is not a Buddhist but is open-minded and believes the new school has "endless possibilities" for her children.
She said: "The reasons to be here far outweighed the reasons for us to live in London.
"My children are happier already and I want them to learn about being calm and how they relate to others."
Daughter Celina said that moving from the bustle of the capital to rural Derbyshire was a big adventure.
She said: "I had a lot of friends in London, who I'll miss, but I have already made new ones here.
"Sometimes my friends at my old school were hard to get on with but here we all respect each other more.
"I like meditating because I can calm myself.
"Instead of being too excited, I can be calm and it's easier to learn things in lessons."
Head teacher Ratna Kelsang said: "I really feel this place is actually owned by everyone in it and we feel like a family already.
"This school would not have happened without imagination. Now we will get to see the children's imagination and what they can achieve through it."
The cost of tuition at the school is £3,900 per pupil, per year.
If you are interested in enrolling your child, contact the Kadampa Primary School by calling 01283 735254 or find out more online at www.derbyshirekadampaprimary.org