A banker's free school is on its way in Canary Wharf

Francis Gilbert's picture
The announcement that Canary Wharf College has got the go-ahead as a free school this week caught many residents in Tower Hamlets like me by surprise. The school is to be run by an ex-private school head, Sarah Counter, who was also an inspector and speaker for the Independent Schools Council, which is a support group for private schools. The site will be near Crossharbour station on the Isle of Dogs, near Canary Wharf.

The other members of the team setting up the school are Peter Counter (who must be a relation of some sort, though this is not declared on the website) and a number of people who have worked or work in finance, consultancy and banking. They all seem to have Masters Degrees. They are planning to set up a school with a "Christian ethos" in an area which is dominated by other religions: the curriculum and approach, as we have seen with many other free schools, is designed to "put off" certain poorer sections of the community. As Michael Foley, a headteacher, said to me the other day, you don't have to "gerry-mander" admissions if you make it very clear in your prospectus, in your curriculum, in your approach that certain types of children are not welcome. I think this is the case with this school. Have a look at the website and judge for yourself.

You can imagine exactly the type of children that will go to the school: the sons and daughters of the bankers, accountants, consultants and so forth who live in Canary Wharf. The class sizes are going to be small, 20 or less. It will start as a primary school and then grow into a secondary school.

Check out this Google map of the schools in the area and you'll see that there are plenty of primary schools around -- and secondary schools. These schools take some of the most socially disadvantaged children in the country and do an amazing job: the standards in these schools are extremely high despite the fact that many pupils have English as an Additional Language. Let's take Harbinger Primary school which is near Canary Wharf: it admits a great many children from poorer backgrounds but its latest Ofsted rates it as a good school with some outstanding teachers. It needs the support of everyone in the community, it's only a stone's-throw away from Canary Wharf; why can't these parents send their children there and support the great work that the school is doing?

Let's be blunt, at the heart of this free school project is a group of parents who don't want their children mixing with poorer, local children. At the moment, these sorts of parents, often very wealthy, send their children to private schools; soon they'll have a taxpayer-funded "private" school. Valuable resources are being drained away from the state sector to fund children from wealthy backgrounds to be separated off from their local communities. These children would have really benefitted from joining their local LA primary schools: the education they would have received would have been great and they'd have seen another side to life. It's such a shame that this terrible education policy is supporting the further fragmentation of our society and sucking money away from schools that really need it.
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Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 16/01/2011 - 11:51

It is fascinating , and alarming, to see the way that these new schools can just 'emerge' without their local communities knowing anything at all about them, their ethos, curriculum etc. I think that this will contribute greatly to the divisive nature of the free schools policy. Did this group consult with other primary schools and parents before embarking on the project, to find out what sort of school the wider community might want, or need? Probably not although they should, as I suggested in this piece in the Guardian last year.
Also, no mention of their admissions policy on the site. Definitely a space to watch.

Nigel Ford's picture
Sun, 16/01/2011 - 12:06

I think you covered it all Francis.

The fact that the new school because of its Christian ethos will axiomatically exclude children of Muslim Asians will only increase polarisation in the area.

It would be interesting to know if the emphasis on its Christian ethos is there to deter local Asian Muslims or whether it is going to be evangelic in its curriculum like the Emmanuel Academy schools in the north east, which are different from the faith based Cof E/Catholic schools.

In fairness, the case against CWC financed by taxpayers money can just as easily be made against a Muslim, Hindu or Jewish free school built on similar principles, and how well they serve the wider community is highly debatable.

Chris's picture
Fri, 06/01/2012 - 15:52

Have you seen the local Tower Hamlets state primary schools? It is 98% Bangladeshi. We are Christian family and also we appreciate a diverse community which we live in, I would want my child to grow celebrating Christmas rather than Ramadan.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 16/01/2011 - 12:42

I totally agree Nigel. What is needed is a schools' policy which has "local democracy" at its heart, with locally elected representatives and other stakeholders making decisions about having "inclusive" schools which bring communities together. It's so worrying the way local democracy is being eroded. I really think schools should cross "sectarian" boundaries and should be places where children with parents who are Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists etc should come together. This school has a 50% rule, where half the children should be Christian; of course, the rest probably will be too. This social and ethnic fragmentation is terrifying. In Leicester, I have heard of major concerns about Hindu and Muslim schools, concerns which are very similar to my ones here.

Laura Brown's picture
Sun, 16/01/2011 - 16:45

Wow, this one doesn't look good. I notice from their website that they say they'll have class sizes of 20. I'm not an expert on school funding at all so I'm intrigued as to how this school will be able to afford such small class sizes. Which takes us to the other point, what types of kids end up going there. In this world of constrained resource, it seems like madness that there is no need to work out where extra investment will make most difference in terms of educational outcomes. If it's true what you suspect about the 'ethos' expecting to shape the school towards a certain type of intake, is providing class sizes of 20 for those who may well be amongst the most advantaged in the area, a sensible use of cash? Of course, affluent kids need access to good state schools too but it sounds from Francis like there already are several good options in the area. A familiar tale...

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 17/01/2011 - 11:17

How can it be that parents living in the area haven't heard about the proposals? Could it be that those who are pushing for the school are restricting the publicity in case they attract the 'wrong kind' of children? According to the school's website there is a 'lack of choice' in the area, but it appears there are plenty of good local schools. The website also cites the multi-ethnic nature of the area as a reason why the new school is needed. Is this code for "We need a school for children of people like us, not them?"

Francis Gilbert's picture
Mon, 17/01/2011 - 16:54

Cubitt Town Junior School is right next to the proposed free school site, and Harbinger Primary is close too. Both outstanding schools (Cubitt won an award recently) and they have a high proportion of pupils from multi-ethnic backgrounds. I have emailed the school to respond to the queries. No news as yet.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Mon, 17/01/2011 - 16:58

Here's a comment in support of the school on Wharf.co.uk. I quote from http://www.wharf.co.uk/2010/12/free-school-heading-to-canary.html

"Tower Shamlets Council said:

A school with a Christian ethos ?

Makes a nice change from the Islamist run Tower Hamlets council's policy of forcing their 'religion of peace' TM on all residents."

This is despite the fact that there are TWO Christian schools on the Isle of Dogs already but they are clearly "inclusive" Christian schools from what I can see, in other words happy to admit children from diverse backgrounds.

Zakin's picture
Tue, 18/01/2011 - 18:16

This school will be on the doorstep of Seven Mills Primary School.I believe there is a hidden message to this and what effect good or bad we impose on the communtiy and to break barriers rather than build......

Claudia's picture
Thu, 31/03/2011 - 12:12

I am one of those parents from the community and I have been consulted by CWC and as a matter of fact I do believe we need more schools in the area. I suggest Francis Gilbert looks at the amount of Residential Buildings going up in this area and families moving into this area as well, just to get a more balanced view.

Philip's picture
Mon, 04/04/2011 - 23:11

This is a list of all the places that appear on the google map on the Isle of Dogs
River house Montessori School
Docklands Kyokushinkai Karate club
Seven Mills School
City Sailing
Premier College
Arnhem Wharf. 3 times
Trumpet Lessons
St Edmunds. 2 times
Docklands Taekwondo
Bando Kick Boxing
Kung Fu fitness
Docklands Education center (not a school)
George Green
St Luke School
Mudchute Nursery
Cubitt Town infant school
London Capoeira
UK International College
E Thames Graduate school. 2 times
Lanterns Nursery
Cactus Language courses
Exercise Classes
Billingsgate Seafood training school
London Schoolwear
Brass Teacher

The Tower Hamlets planning authority shows that there will be nearly 3000 pupils aged between 10 and 19 in LAP 8 (Isle of dogs). There is only one secondary school (George Green) with a capacity of c 1400. Lots of people move out of the Isle of dogs when it is time for their children to go to secondary school. If an area is going to develop as a community then you need people to stay and have some involvement in improving the area.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 07:56

Thanks for this Claudia and Philip, clearly there is a need for a new school at some point, but it needs to be properly planned and EVERYONE needs to be consulted. I have spoken to a number of people who feel it's just popped up over night; the Isle of Dogs needs a community school, not an exclusive one.

Curt Fahndrich's picture
Thu, 14/04/2011 - 13:39

I have lived on the Island for over 10 years, and when we had our first child 5 years ago, we submitted our Tower Hamlets school selection, thinking we would have a place. WRONG!! We did not get any places. We were then forced to either go off the Island or look at private education locally. I think that the local schools do an excellent job, but when the demand exceeds supply, something needs to be done. So I do welcome the Free School. Perhaps there should be a few more to help with the increasing numbers of children occupying the Island. As for CWC, I heard about it and attended one of the various open sessions, which was extremely full with interested parents.

Linaj's picture
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 10:32

You obvously dont have childern or experienced the disappointment of having your child placed in a school three miles away from home in a school with a poor Ofsted rating, education and disciplinary record.
Being a single mother on the Isle of dogs I give my full support and appreciation to Sarah and her colleagues.

Lia's picture
Wed, 02/11/2011 - 19:32

I definitely agree with Curt & Linaj. I live in the island for 4 years. I did not get a local school in the island for my daughter and had to send my little girl to school 4 miles away with school bus everyday. I found out about CWC from local newspaper and they actually invited EVERYONE to register their interest and many open sessions held before the admission started. There was no exclusivity on the invitations. My daughter is in CWC now and from my point of view this is not an exclusive school. It has christian ethos but most parents are not practising christian so they did actually applied their 50% rule of christian students and please don't say that those are bankers or rich children as it is again so wrong. My family certainly not one of them and the majority of parents are working parents that both pay taxes and deserve a free school. Also, most of them had same problem with school allocation and had to send their children off the island before. The students in CWC come from different backgrounds, faith and cultures, which reflects the majority of people living in island. We had parents social gathering once and most of them are not originally from this country. I completely support more free schools added to this area as we definitely need it. Thanks to Sarah and the trustees that my little girl doesn't have to travel at least 8 miles everyday and no more school bus (a great saving for the local council).

towa's picture
Mon, 02/01/2012 - 22:13

i have lived on the island for over 25 years and seen the many changes here. i did visit the cwc recently as i have a small child and was amused by some of the questions put to the people there on the open day by some of the parents, that reinforced my impressions that most of those parents attending and seemingly desperate to gain a place for their child(ren) are as mentioned probably from the financial sector nearby in canary wharf AND not wanting to mix in with the other children/parents locally (i.e., of less economic and social standing). listening in and also having had many conversations with other parents on the island it is apparent that there is some sense of division personified by cwc. it'll be interesting to see how this 'free' school develops and if it brings people together or just reinforces divisions already apparent and solid.

JULY's picture
Wed, 04/01/2012 - 13:55

My child goes to CWC. I have lived on the Isle of Dogs for many years and actually attended Cubitt Town achool and George Green school myself. I heard about the CWC through the nursery my child attended and I also saw posters and petitions at local childrens clubs. The huge appeal to me personally was the 20 kids to a class option in this highly over-subscribed area. I too feared being sent off of the Isle of Dogs if we were not to receive a place in a local school. So far, I can only speak on my own personal experience of course, but I have not felt like any of the parents have not wanted to get involved with all other parents. Infact, there have been social events with all parents invited, specifically set up so that everyone gets to know each other. I am very happy with the school and so is my child.

JINNY-JAH's picture
Mon, 07/01/2013 - 00:00


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