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.