Ongoing Fiasco Over City of London School For Girls Expansion

Yesterday My London were reporting on the ongoing controversy over the proposed extension to the City of London School for Girls. This is one of a number of long running disputes between Cripplegate ward residents and the City of London council which funds this elite private school and owns the Barbican Estate:

One of Britain’s leading private schools should leave its home at the Barbican Estate in Central London, residents have said.

The City of London School for Girls has drawn fresh criticism from residents of the renowned Grade II* listed estate, where it sits beside concrete housing blocks in the ‘brutalist’ architectural style.

The £18,300-a-year school… revealed earlier this year its plans to build a kitchen and dining hall under 64 flats in Mountjoy House.

Vivien Fowle, who has lived on the Barbican for 16 years, said: “It will cause huge inconvenience to us with the building, and then the noise and the smells from extractor fans when it’s built.”

The pensioner added: “If they want to expand and want to have more pupils and earn more money, then they should move. But they are imposing these plans on us.

“If I wanted to have an extension on my flat, I would have to build onto my balcony, and I’m obviously not allowed to do that. So why should the school be allowed to expand?”

Another Barbican resident, Shelagh Wright, said: “There’s a strong feeling among residents that the school should move. Clearly it’s going to need to extend again.”


A profile view of Mountjoy House. The school hopes to build a glass kitchen and dining hall around the huge pillars that support the block (Image: Owen Sheppard).

Others have called the plans an act of “vandalism” towards the area’s distinct architecture.

The school has said kitchen fumes will be treated to remove smells, and directed away from flats.

At a meeting of councillors on July 18, it was agreed that the City of London Corporation , which helps fund the school, will provide a loan of more than £15.3 million for the controversial development.

But the loan was only agreed in principle. And the school, which is ranked in the top 10 in the country, must first get planning permission from the CoL’s planning committee.

Opinion between councillors, including some who live on the Barbican Estate, was divided. And the decision was made by a small majority.

Councillor Tom Sleigh said the CoL should stop funding the school. “I have long thought we should get out of the business of running schools,” he said.

Councillor John Tomlinson said further changes to the Barbican estate could bring “repercussions from public opinion and the architectural press, and bad PR”.

Catherine McGuinness, Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee, said: “I do urge members to support this motion. They are not asking for approval of the scheme, that will go to the Planning Committee in the usual way…

“They did make their case and assured us the money would be repaid.”

A spokesperson for the CoL previously said: “The City of London School for Girls values its place at the heart of the Barbican and looks forward to continued collaboration with the community.”

The school was rated “Outstanding” by the Independent Schools Inspectorate and also receives donations from companies in the Square Mile.

Barbican residents demand leading London girls’ school should move. City of London School for Girls wants to build a new dining hall and kitchen by Owen Sheppard, My London News, 19 July 2019.

It’s curious to note how the position of support extended by Catherine McGuinness for the loan to this private school does not exactly line up with propaganda claims about the City of London supporting social mobility – our view is, of course, that when McGuinness and the City use rhetoric about inclusion they hope it will divert people’s attention away from the fact that their overall agenda is designed to benefit a tiny money grabbing elite at the expense of everyone else (and that in practice what they do fosters social exclusion). For an example of such rhetoric see the letter from McGuinness published by The Guardian on 28 June 2019.* As we noted in our last post there is a huge disparity between the City’s statements about social mobility and what it actually does. We gave the example of it not notifying tenants or other residents about a meeting on social mobility held in a council estate community centre – effectively excluding those in need of such mobility in favour of professionals and simultaneously a clear attempt at the disempowerment and disenfranchisement of those the City rhetorically claims it wants to ‘help’.

We partially agree with Tom Sleigh in that we believe the City of London council should stop its current programme of funding and running schools. While some Cripplegate residents only want the school in question to move off the Barbican Estate, others – including us – think it and the City of London School for Boys should be closed down. Currently the City of London puts much more money into private education than it does into state schools. That said we do not like the City of London’s funding for academies either, since we prefer more democratic educational institutions.  We are, of course, in favour of the City of London and other councils building more schools and social housing – what we object to is the elitist ideological agenda that is part and parcel of the City’s educational offensive.

Likewise given the record of the Planning Committee and the unresolved issue of potential conflicts of interests as regards the demolition of Bernard Morgan House and the building of The Denizen, we are not reassured by Catherine McGuinness invoking this body as having a final say on the City of London School for Girls extension. The proposal looks like a more ambitious version of the addition of an exercise studio to the Golden Lane Sport and Fitness complex largely through the use of class. Despite the new exercise studio being too small to comfortably accommodate full size fitness classes, it still ruins the line of the listed building that accommodates it – and the proposed addition to Mountjoy House would be even worse. There was a perfectly adequate and largely unused space next to the extension on the Golden Lane Estate but the new micro-studio was added seemingly so the more suitable one behind it could be privately hired out (which doesn’t seem to happen much).

There is nothing peculiar about the fact that the City of London council are lending a private school more than £15million – subject to the same local authority granting planning permission for the scheme it already backs – while simultaneously seeking £30million in cuts from its parks and other budgets, and when it has just secured £450million in external loans for unwanted vanity/legacy projects such as the proposed Centre For Music.** This rotten borough lobbies globally for neo-liberal policies that benefit the super-rich at the expense of everyone else, so its willingness to underwrite the expansion of an elitist school – to the detriment of London’s architectural heritage and against the interests of the local community – reflects perfectly its aims and priorities.


*Catherine McGuinness letter to The Guardian – which serves to obscure the fact that those holding the top job at the City of London of Lord Mayor are absurdly lacking in diversity:

Throughout the country, we see that those at the top are still drawn from a narrow background. When employees come from a small talent pool, employers struggle with a lack of diversity and less innovation. That’s why, in partnership with the Social Mobility Commission and the Social Mobility Foundation, we launched the world’s first social mobility employer index. It ranks the top UK employers who have taken the most action to improve social mobility in the workplace, incentivising firms to improve access to top-quality jobs for candidates from all backgrounds. We have a rich talent pool with huge potential in this country, and firms are increasingly realising that diversity is good for business. If the UK is to remain globally competitive, businesses across the UK need to make sure everyone can access the opportunities they can offer. Catherine McGuinness. Policy chair at the City of London Corporation.

** From City AM:

The City of London Corporation has secured £450m in external funding for its major projects, after it revealed that its squeezed finances meant it would have to borrow for the first time in 30 years.

Catherine McGuinness, chair of the policy and resources committee, admitted the organisation was facing “significant financial pressures” and highlighted the need for financial discipline.

In May it was revealed that the Corporation would have to borrow for the first time in three decades in order to fund a list of new projects, including the relocation of the Museum of London from the Barbican to Smithfield market; a new courts facility at Fleet Street dedicated to economic crime, a centre for music and the consolidation of the Corporation’s Billingsgate, New Spitalfields and Smithfield markets.

“These projects represent a substantial funding requirement of unprecedented scale in the context of the City Corporation’s more recent capital plans,” the Corporation said in its most recent budget. “They therefore present a significant challenge to the finances of the organisation, requiring a step change in the previously debt-free status of both city fund and city’s cash.”

Jeremy Mayhew, chairman of the City Corporation’s finance committee, said: “I’m very pleased that we have agreed a prudent means of financing these major projects that will enable us to invest with confidence for the future.

“These projects should create a legacy for London but require substantial investment, which will be financed in a number of ways, including external borrowing.”

City of London Corporation secures £450m in external funding for major projects by Alexandra Rogers, City AM, 18 July 2019:

Barbican residents demand leading London girls’ school should move. City of London School for Girls wants to build a new dining hall and kitchen by Owen Sheppard:


4 thoughts on “Ongoing Fiasco Over City of London School For Girls Expansion

  1. Entrenching privilege as per normal although why anyone would spend the money on sending their off spring to such an establishment when it is a well known fact that the state schools in London are so good now…

    Liked by 1 person

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