The future of the site of Dulwich Hospital, following the partial demolition of its wards in 2006, was for many years a matter of deep concern and complete uncertainty for local residents. Initially it was feared that it would be sold off for housing. Subsequently there was a sustained effort by the local community for some form of health provision and a number of plans were discussed. It was not until the spring of 2015 however that some certainty arose following the realisation of the shortage of secondary school places in the Dulwich area and the community was delighted to hear that it would be the recipient of both a new medical centre and a new school.
The success of The Charter School at Red Post Hill allowed it to obtain funding from central government to build a sister secondary school on the hospital site. Southwark Council also added a substantial sum to allow the new school to be built in brick to harmonise with the retained and much admired ‘chateau’ central block.
At the same time the concept of a health facility on the site was also accepted and design schemes for both were put in place. The original plan for the school, rather confusingly also named The Charter School but differentiated by the addition of East Dulwich as opposed to The Charter School North Dulwich, was for temporary buildings to be placed on the north east corner of the cleared site near the Jarvis Road entrance. However, when vacant school premises became available near Southampton Way it enabled the build to be speeded up and the school was able to open in Camberwell in 2017 with an intake of 120 children in Year 7, half of the projected 8 form intake which will eventually work through the school to reach its full strength of 1680 pupils.
At present, the school is restricting its intake to 180 pupils each year until the building is completed. The school is popular and remains seven times over-subscribed. Always intended as a local community school, its criteria for admission is on the basis of distance from the school gate, with the present catchment area being under a kilometre. At such high levels of oversubscription, it is unlikely that the catchment area will extend beyond 1.5 kilometres even when the school admits 240 pupils per year. There will also be a special unit catering for up to 20 pupils with special needs - autistic spectrum disorder, and present thinking is that the unit will be housed in part of the former ‘chateau’ block which will also form the school’s new main entrance. The current entrance in Jarvis Road will also continue to function. It is planned that the NHS will evacuate the hospital by the Spring of 2020 when demolition of the remaining wards and ancillary buildings will take place. The completion of the school will then take a further 18 months.
When completed, the school will have a new hall, a 6th form social space, a drama studio and a suite of music classrooms, practice rooms and recording facilities . These will be located in an extension at the rear of the chateau building. The new block on the west side of the site is already operational and contains a canteen and an indoor sports complex. The range of classrooms on the north of the site has also been completed.
The headteacher, Alex Crossman was appointed in September 2015 and he has overseen the development of the school from a concept rather than a formal plan. He is well qualified for this task with a prior career in a senior post in financial services before becoming the founding chief executive of an educational consultancy for the world’s largest private schools’ operator. Seeking more of a satisfying grass-roots challenge Alex retrained to be a teacher and taught at The Charter School North Dulwich before successfully applying to be part of Future Leaders Trust which prepares school leaders for positions of responsibility in complex urban schools. He was appointed Vice Principal of Ark Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton, which he helped to become a ‘Good’ school. He lives in East Dulwich with his wife and two children, who both attended The Charter School North Dulwich.
The curriculum followed is the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc), which comprises English, Maths at least two sciences, history or geography and a foreign language. In its language choice the school has chosen to offer French, Spanish and Mandarin. (Alex Crossman says that he would very much like to broaden the language offer as the school grows). Pupils will also choose one creative arts subject; fine art, music, drama, digital media and photography are taught. Those pupils who entered in 2017 will take their GCSE in 2021 when Further Maths will also be offered as a subject. When the school reaches its maximum strength it will have a 6th form of 480.
The proposed sixth form will be similar to and aligned with, its sibling school. It is designed to prepare students for higher education, higher-level apprenticeships or high-value work- based learning opportunities such as those offered by many accounting firms. All sixth formers will be required to perform community service in keeping with the tradition established elsewhere in the school.
Currently, 30% of pupils study a musical instrument, Alex Crossman would like to see this rise to 50% - he says - “I’m a strong believer in the beneficial effect on young people‘s development from studying and appreciating music in all its forms”. Certainly Year 10 who are studying for their GCSE can look forward to seeing Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House this September.
School hours are 8.30am -3.10pm although on Thursdays there is an additional lesson taking the day to 4.10pm. After-school activities and clubs are well supported with more than 90% of the pupils participating in two or more weekly sessions which last until 4.10pm, four days per week.
The school is divided into six Houses, each named after a figure of note in a different field of endeavour, each with a connection with this part of London. One of the houses is named after the late Dame Tessa Jowell. Each House holds its own individual assembly one day a week. When the School is completed there might then be space for a whole-school assembly.
In addition to its indoor sports facility, outdoor sports are played at present in fields shared with its sister school in Greendale and some use of Dulwich Hamlet’s ground on Champion Hill. When the remaining wards and outbuildings of the present Dulwich Hospital are cleared from next Easter, most of the land will be turned into sports facilities. Clearly however, in the longer term, as numbers rise, more local outdoor sports facilities will be required.
Commendably, it has become first secondary school in England to declare a climate emergency when it did so in May. In the past few months it has switched entirely to utility providers that rely on renewable energy sources; introduced meat-free days in order to reduce the school’s impact on the environment; banned single-use plastic bottles from the school site; commissioned cultivation spaces around the school play areas in order to grow its own food; and lent support to local initiatives to reduce air pollution.
It has also recently introduced a mental health and wellbeing policy that commits the school to combat the mental health crisis seen developing in young people as a result of the heightened pressures of modern adolescence. An extensive range of counselling and mentoring services is in place to help children who need additional support.
Alex Crossman sees his vision for the school to be “an institution dedicated to the advancement of social justice and community cohesion - two things that can seem sadly elusive in the current climate. That begins by providing the best possible start in life for our students, but also goes much further. I believe that our schools can provide a beacon for inclusive schooling nationally and internationally.”