Whitefield School

It is true to say that I’m not very child friendly, I have a constant fear that as soon as a parent turns their back, any child in my charge will jump from my grip and land on its head, or spontaneously erupt in some kind of baked bean juice explosion, so I suppose it’s not a great surprise that I had never heard of Whitefield school before. I found out about it last Wednesday. I was up early that day working a shift at the night shelter. I told one of the volunteers that I was feeling a bit tired and might not have a very productive day at work. She then told me about her job and the school she worked in, it sounded like an amazing place so I decided to find out more.

Located behind Homebase on Macdonald Road, Whitefield School is one of the largest providers of Special Education in Europe. According to their site they have over 300 pupils from 30 local authority’s, and its methods are internationally renowned. Digging a bit further I found out that the school didn’t just parachute into Walthamstow, it evolved from two schools that opened in 1903. The Forest Road Centre for defective girls and the High Street Centre for defective boys opened on April 20th of that year. The two schools joined forces in 1933 under the leadership of Miss Purcell. Even back then the school had a great reputation and students and teachers from overseas would regularly visit. The term ‘defective’ is obviously very much of its time, but isn’t it great to see that an institution that started and grew in Walthamstow in 1903 is still leading the way in 2013.

Miss Purcell
Miss Purcell

Whitefield school has been commended for its use of music therapy, and OFSTED have used it as a case study to show how music can be used to help kids communicate. I don’t know what Miss Purcell would make of the video below, but I think it’s pretty amazing and says far more about Whitefield than I can. For more information about the school click here


  1. Thanks so much for this Bill, I’m glad we provided some inspiration! I have worked there for seven years and am constantly amazed by our pupils. What they need most, though, is for people in the community to know they exist and understand the problems they face every day – things like your blog all help! You would be welcome to come and visit, and we always welcome volunteers …

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