Gatehouse School

The Gatehouse School was a private school founded by in Smithfield, London by Phyllis Wallbank in 1948. It was originally housed in the Gatehouse of St Bartholomew-the-Great church in Smithfield but moved to Bethnal Green in the 1970s. The school was a private school run along Montessori method principles developed by the educationalist Maria Montessori and initially served children from 2 – 16 years of age. It was quite untraditional in its educational philosophy. The school's 60th anniversary in 2008 was marked by a service in the school's original home, St Bartholomew's in Smithfield.

The Gatehouse School integrated children with a wide range of disabilities with so called able bodied children. It followed the idea that true learning resulted from children exploring the world for themselves through play. It allowed children to choose when to take their lessons during the week. A child would be required to complete a certain number of lessons in Mathematics, English, Art, Geography etc. per week but would be able to decide when to do them. Students would also have free lessons where they could choose any subject they liked. The balance of subjects were often weighted towards a child's aptitude or current interests. Teachers would teach different abilities/ages of children in the same session and would sign pupils off for the lessons they had completed. Some older children (14/15 year olds) could then take the amount of each subject they wished to do over the course of each week, resulting in some pupils spending the week doing 'what they wanted' e.g., Art/Monday, Geography/Tuesday, English/Wednesday, Biology/Thursday and then back to Art/Friday.

After an hour for lunch pupils had an hour to read followed by 'afternoon activities'. These included football, swimming, and visits to museums. The school also had two ponies, as well as a duck, for the children. It also had an old farm cottage just outside Clochan in Scotland.

The Gatehouse School featured in several documentary programmes during the 1970s. Saxophonist & Bon Viveur Brian Hardy taught Art & Dance here. Actors Sophie Ward and Linus Roche were pupils.

Today the school is based in Sewardstone Road in Bethnal Green, and continues to flourish, although its age range is now from 3 to 11 years.The youngest classes continue to follow a Montessori-style education, but the influence of the national curriculum has brought the older classes more into line with mainstream schools. The school continues to admit children from the full ability range.There is still an emphasis on the Arts, including visits to museums and theatres, as well as sports and outward bound activities.

Read more about Gatehouse School:  Bibliography

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