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On entrance, students demonstrate a wide range of ability but it is notable that by year 11, 56 per cent have risen to the two highest ability bands. A parent tells us: ‘This school is for children who want to...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Excellent performance by Boys taking Drama & Theatre Studies at an English Comprehensive School (GCSE)

2016 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Business Studies at an English Comprehensive School (BTEC L1/L2 First Certificate)

What The Good Schools Guide says

On entrance, students demonstrate a wide range of ability but it is notable that by year 11, 56 per cent have risen to the two highest ability bands. A parent tells us: ‘This school is for children who want to learn, want to get somewhere in the world. It caters for all in that there is something for everyone...

Head Teacher

Since 2013, Mr Christian Hicks (40s) grew up in West Norwood and was educated at nearby Dulwich College, then collected a BA in German studies and European literature at Bristol, an MA in English and American literature at Newcastle and an MA in effective learning at the Institute of Education.

Very likeable, open and seemingly far less ego-bound than some heads. Mr Hicks lives in Beckenham with his teacher wife and three young children – two boys and girl. Out of school he thrives on learning new things, recently taking up magic and completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. What could be more useful in a demanding headship than a head for heights, stamina and the ability to pull rabbits out of a hat?

Despite his own alma mater, he is committed to the principle of comprehensive, inclusive education. Previously deputy head of Blackfen girls' school in Bexley and before that deputy head of the Royal Docks Community School in Newham. His move was not without ambition. The Charter School is never far from the dazzle of the spotlight, its every move noted and often written about in national newspapers by the influential parental and local body. The Charter School East Dulwich opened in September 2016.

Head jokes about his tough remit of improving on the already vastly improved academic standards. Has high expectations of his pupils, aims to challenge, inspire and be highly visible: he isn’t too grand for break duty and is on the door with his headship team every morning and afternoon to greet, send off and confiscate any attempts to flaunt the uniform. He sees one of the most vital parts of his role as ‘getting the right people on the bus’ – the hiring and firing of an exceptional team of teachers.

Academic Matters

Unfazed by the ending of modular assessment at GCSE, 75 per cent of pupils gained 5+ A*-C including English and maths in 2016. At A level, 67 per cent of grades were A*-B and 34 per cent A*/A.

Standard-ish curriculum at GCSE, including French, Spanish and Latin plus Mandarin for those with an aptitude for languages at year 7. The school has been teaching Mandarin with some success and finds it accessible for those with dyslexia. GCSE English results have soared, maths is solid, and sciences are strong. History and art and design are both popular and successful. Weak spots most recently media studies and RE.

Relatively few taking computer science, but the school is ahead of the curve in making the transition from ICT and is looking forward to pupils who have been coding at primary school joining in future years. A group of girls recently won a competition to design an app for a local business, whilst prizewinning games designers met the Duke of Cambridge at an enterprise event at BAFTA HQ.

A few less deskbound options such as catering, PE and performing arts and a handful of BTecs on offer – science, business, social care, engineering and ICT, with most success in business.

Head assured us that school will ‘really push children who have been successful at primary school’ – hence this school does well by the more able, with some 20 per cent of pupils generally achieving at least eight A*/As. Stand-out performances include lashings of A*s, but we noticed the school proudly trumpets the achievements of pupils gaining three Ds if this means that they have achieved well and are on track for their next step.

Best-performing subjects most recently at A level are: further maths and maths, biology, chemistry, fine art, English literature, history and a few -ologies. Languages seem a complete turn-off. Head says school is not alone in this. Aiming for an all-round academics, school will run subject even with a single pupil if necessary. Equal numbers of girls taking maths and a strong showing in sciences too.

Twenty-one teachers have more than 10 years’ service – hard to believe as they appear extremely youthful. As one parent noted, ‘teachers are mostly young and cool.’ In fact one was so young and cool that we witnessed the receptionist assuming he was a pupil. Head and parents point out the calibre of staff attracted here by the unusually leafy milieu for an inner city salary. Head is very clear about his expectations of staff: ‘don’t come here if you’re not prepared to work hard for successful outcomes for the students.’

A thrilled father of three girls told us that ‘science teaching at The Charter is fabulous; several staff have Oxbridge PhDs and the teaching is inspiring.’ Others said: ‘Our children are inspired by their teachers and are really motivated to learn’ and ‘the staff clearly work really hard and are extremely conscientious.’ Average class size at key stage 4 is 20, with 30 the maximum and some as small as five for ‘nurture groups.’ In the sixth form the average is 18.

With regards to homework and pressure one parent said: ‘There is a good balance of homework throughout the term and a very balanced approach to exams,’ whilst another warned that ‘it’s very intensive.’ Parents kept thoroughly in the loop. The school is quick to bring them in to discuss a student who is not attaining their individual target for each subject. Coasting is not permitted.

The school dazzles in its business and enterprise specialism, creating aspiration in thinking ahead to future careers – opening students’ eyes to the wider world and maximising their situation in London is a real strength. The school has links with PwC, King and Woods Malleson, O2, King's College Hospital, the Worshipful Company of International Bankers, Shell UK and more than 100 business mentors.

One parent tells us that assistance given to her son included ‘mock interviews, workshops on CV writing, presentation skills and financial awareness workshops.’ The CEO of the Science Council recently spoke to year 10s about STEM careers and a doctor from King’s College Hospital runs an annual seminar on applying to medical school. Students also sampled uni life at Lille, London South Bank and Brighton and large groups are taken to both Oxford and Cambridge to inspire.

Someone here is in possession of an amazingly A-list little black book – a truly top-notch class of the great and good drop in to inspire regularly. Imagine the thrill of a Romeo and Juliet masterclass with none other than Joseph Fiennes; Jo Brand speaking to celebrate International Women’s Day; Professor Sir Michael Rutter talking about his latest research to psychology students; not to mention professional Bollywood dancers teaching the Samba. Nor are they short of invites: the day prior to our visit 30 pupils met Boris Johnson at City Hall at a reception to honour the contribution of African and Caribbean soldiers in the First World War.

Head emphasises the value of the growing D of E programme in fostering key learning aptitudes such as resilience. Around 300 day and residential trips every year, from Bletchley Park to Belgium, Berlin and Beijing. London theatres are made good use of with trips to the National, Unicorn and Young Vic this year. One parent said: ‘The school also works closely with many charities and my son was lucky enough to take a charity trip to Kenya this summer.’ The school is aware of hardship issues and helps with small bursaries where it can.

Quite high numbers of SEN: around 20 per cent of students across the school cope with varying degrees of learning difficulties, so everything from specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyspraxia to physical disabilities, autistic spectrum disorder or ADHD. Large learning support team of 23 staff, including specialist SEN teachers, higher level teaching assistants and learning support assistants, support students in mainstream classes but may also be able to offer small group withdrawals, extra literacy and maths intervention sessions, touch-typing, handwriting and reading clubs and input from a range of external agencies.

Games, Options, the Arts

Sports are compulsory – and the only time girls and boys are taught separately. Footballers enjoy links with professional clubs such as Millwall and Fulham FC. Cricket and rugby are on the up: the MCC coach cricket and the RFU rugby. The coaching team includes national class coaches in table tennis and aquathon. Students recently started play basketball competitively and are now enjoying BMX at Burgess Park.

Successes across the board, with pupils competing regionally and nationally, particularly the girls: the school boasts a national champion in rowing; under 13 girls’ cricket team recently won the Lady Taverners’ competition at the Oval; year 8 girls’ rugby recently placed sixth in London; year 7 girls’ netball team won the Southwark league. Over 500 pupils take part in after-school sports club every week.

The school appears rather boxed in by the neighbouring houses and plentiful sports ground of the neighbouring girls’ school, but pupils use a playing field a five-minute walk away. Indoor sports hall is large and there is an on-site floodlit netball court, ball-court and Astroturf.

More than 200 learn a variety of 20 different musical instruments up to grade 8, with some lessons significantly subsidised and many trying an instrument for the first time. Two choirs and a jazz band, which may be led by teachers or pupils. Past students have gained places at the Royal Academy of Music. A favourite alumni is rising star Kwabs – The Guardian calls him ‘the new Seal’ and he has a recording contract with a major record label.

All pupils study drama once a week in years 7, 8 and 9, enjoying purpose-built drama studios and a flexible theatre space. A highlight of the dramatic year is the whole school theatre performance – most recently Guys and Dolls – featuring staff alongside pupils. A parent said of the art: ‘I have been delighted with the art department. I feel the teachers really care about what they teach.’ London galleries are frequented and facilities include a kiln, dark room, screen printing and Mac suite.

Lunchtime and after-school clubs include young historians, tennis, handball, track cycling, music theory, ukulele, African drumming and study skills. Pupils sign up on a first come first served basis. Most are free, with a small charge for tennis and swimming clubs.

Background and Atmosphere

Smaller than most city comprehensives, The Charter squeezes into a plot a few strides from North Dulwich station and at the heart of Herne Hill. Built on the site of the defunct William Penn School, it opened in 2000 following a concerted campaign from parents in an area dominated by independent schools, but without a good state option.

Savvy parents realise that they have something of a find on their doorstep, but some nervousness persists locally around the legacy of the failed school, and the head is aware school has to work hard to ensure that no one child lets down the reputation of the whole amongst the local community. Ofsted has rated it outstanding twice since 2006.

Most of the buildings were remodelled rather than replaced. It is light and functional but now looking more than a little frayed at the edges, both inside and out. We wondered how a shy year 7 moving here from one of the cosy local primaries might make the transition. The head told us: ‘This is a family school, a local school. When children move here they are often joining siblings or friends’ – a third of every year group has school siblings. And everywhere in the mornings and afternoons one sees little gaggles of Charter pupils walking to and fro. Each year 180 new pupils join, but the school very often operates in year groups, with assemblies for each year. Lunchtime arrangements – a mix of indoor and outdoor seating under-cover – with year 7s heading to lunch 10 minutes earlier to avoid being overwhelmed.

Prior to lessons we noticed some boisterous boys in the corridor, but once lessons had commenced the atmosphere was exceptionally quiet and calm, with each lesson we viewed in both arts and sciences equally industrious.

Parents talk of happy children who are able to be who they want to be here. When the head was writing his mission statement, pupils asked him to add ‘happiness’ because that is how they feel.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

The relatively relaxed school uniform – polo-shirts and pullovers mostly, so no ties and without the blazers of the other nearby state seniors – is deceiving as to the school’s culture of high expectations. Given the issues of the school in its previous incarnation, the school set out to be something of an innovator in managing behaviour and is known for its no-nonsense attitude to discipline, which it balances with care. Behaviour officers, not in evidence on our visit, have a remit to swoop into any classroom to remove a student who has overstepped the mark. The head says that ‘any pupil who is disrupting the learning of others will be in school until 5pm.’

More serious offences such as smoking will result in exclusion – gross misconducts are half what they were five years ago, although slightly up this year. The emphasis is on inclusion and working with pupils to find a way back to contributing positively. There is a whole raft of rewards including VIVO Miles – like air miles for good behaviour – extra school trips, presentations and a phone call to parents from the head or head of year.

Mobile phones are not allowed in school at all, except for sixth formers who must keep them out of sight. Any confiscated phones must be collected by a parent. No piercings other than one pair of ear studs; no hats, hoodies or outlandish hair colours.

Pupils should always have someone to talk to. There are strong relationships between staff and pupils, a tutor system, year 11 mentors for year 7s and a school counsellor. Even the staff get a buddy each.

Pupils and Parents

A large part of the intake is from privileged Dulwich Village, Herne Hill and East Dulwich, but pupils encompass every kind of home life. More than 30 per cent of students are pupil premium students – the performance gap is significant but closing. On entrance, students demonstrate a wide range of ability but it is notable that by year 11, 56 per cent have risen to the two highest ability bands. A parent told us: ‘This school is for children who want to learn, want to get somewhere in the world. It caters for all in that there is something for everyone.’

The school prides itself on its inclusivity and parents say it really ‘celebrates diversity.’ Forty-seven per cent of pupils describe themselves as white British, with black British African as the second largest group (11 per cent of pupils). Surprisingly few EAL students and whilst there are many bilingual pupils, 93 per cent have English as their first language.

Parents come from all walks of life. Very effective PTA has just bought a 16-seater minibus for inter-school sports matches.


The hoo-ha over the school catchment area is in the past. Admissions criteria are looked after children, then siblings, then distance criteria using safest walking distance as a measure, which places the catchment currently at no more than 1,600 metres from the school. Parents in East Dulwich may want to get out their pedometers. No feeders as such but largest cohorts from Dulwich Hamlet Junior School, Dog Kennel Hill School, Heber and Goodrich local primaries.

The sixth form is more inclusive than many: pupils must have five A*-C grades including maths and English, with a minimum grade for subjects of study which varies.

Applications for places stand at seven to one. Crowded annual open days – often 2,000 attendees – are held in September for year 7 and November for the sixth form.


Nearly all to university, art or music college. Remainder to start gap year, apprenticeship or work. Recent destinations include Bristol, Durham, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Imperial College London and Leeds. One or two usually to Oxbridge (four in 2016).

Many pursuing other dreams have exited to equally prestigious destinations, such as RADA, major London art colleges and the Royal College of Music. Two pupils recently gained sought-after City apprenticeships with KPMG and investment company M&G, whilst the Queen recently presented one girl with a Southwark Council scholarship to pay all her university tuition fees.

Our View

A truly local comprehensive and for those on the doorstep it may be the stepping stone to very good things. Well connected, with increasingly impressive academic results driven by a talented staff promising much for children who want to work hard and those who have previously found opportunities thin on the ground. For parents wondering whether there is life beyond school fees we recommend joining the open day throng.

Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

Approximately 9 statemented pupils per year group. Whole range catered for including those requiring 24 hour care. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
Not Applicable
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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Interpreting catchment maps

The maps show in colour where the pupils at a school came from*. Red = most pupils to Blue = fewest.

Where the map is not coloured we have no record in the previous three years of any pupils being admitted from that location based on the options chosen.

For help and explanation of our catchment maps see: Catchment maps explained

Further reading

If there are more applicants to a school than it has places for, who gets in is determined by which applicants best fulfil the admissions criteria.

Admissions criteria are often complicated, and may change from year to year. The best source of information is usually the relevant local authority website, but once you have set your sights on a school it is a good idea to ask them how they see things panning out for the year that you are interested in.

Many schools admit children based on distance from the school or a fixed catchment area. For such schools, the cut-off distance will vary from year to year, especially if the school give priority to siblings, and the pattern will be of a central core with outliers (who will mostly be siblings). Schools that admit on the basis of academic or religious selection will have a much more scattered pattern.

*The coloured areas outlined in black are Census Output Areas. These are made up of a group of neighbouring postcodes, which accounts for their odd shapes. These provide an indication, but not a precise map, of the school’s catchment: always refer to local authority and school websites for precise information.

The 'hotter' the colour the more children have been admitted.

Children get into the school from here:

most years
quite often
sometimes, but not in this year

Careers intervention used by this School

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