On April 20th 1903, two schools opened in Walthamstow. Forest Road Centre for Defective Girls was under the Headship of Froeble-trained Miss L Firmin and Miss Margaret Brearley was appointed Headteacher at the High Street Centre for Defective Boys. Both later became Shernhall Street Special Schools and provided education for "Epileptics and Mental Defectives".
In 1933, the boys' and girls' schools amalgamated with Miss Purcell as Headteacher. The school was developing a reputation and many teachers and students visited the school from as far away as Canada and Australia.
Walthamstow, like other areas close to London, suffered from air raids during the Second World War. Many pupils were evacuated to Hertfordshire and when the school re-opened, with Miss Lock as Headteacher, attendance was below 50%. On September 23rd, 1940, the school was devastated by a bomb explosion. The school re-opened on October 7th in two classrooms within the Open Air School ½ mile away on Hale End Road.
Following the 1944 Education Act, the school transferred to Pretoria Avenue and was designated as one for "Educationally Subnormal Children", later re-named the "Margaret Brearley School". Children with severe learning difficulties were still excluded and were to remain under the auspices of the Health Authorities for another 25 years. In 1960 Miss Lock was succeeded by Mr. L. Green. The school was, by 1968, outgrowing its accommodation and needed to expand to meet the increasing diversity of pupils. Assessment of educational needs at pre-school level was now essential and the new LEA was anticipating the inclusion of all pupils within the school system. Visitors continued to come from around the world and staff from the school observed similar facilities abroad, a continuation of developments that began during the headship of Margaret Brearley. What was now emerging, following national trends, was a more professional approach, with increased thought and consideration as to what was being provided for pupils and some rudimentary policy development that had not appeared so evident in the earlier decades. The school was presenting as an important element within the schools' system, concerned with the personal development of pupils who were still excluded from regular education; the concept of all pupils being educable began to be established. Liaison between staff, parents and other professionals was to be encouraged with parents viewed as partners.
1968 marked a turning point in the life of the school. The appointment of a new Headteacher, Mr Peter Turner, began a series of developments which would lead to the school's later multi-lateral special needs role. Two major forces for change were to have a big impact. Firstly, pupils from the Junior Training Centres who had continued to be viewed as unsuitable for education were, from 1970, to be included within the education system and secondly, there were growing developments in early intervention, with observation and assessment, of pre-school children who displayed developmental difficulties. If some of these children were to subsequently require a special school setting it was important that the most suitable provision should be determined.
A Nursery Observation Centre was established and then, in response to another growing need, a department for pupils with autism. The school was renamed Whitefield School and most of the classes moved to the present site in Macdonald Road in 1972. The Nursery classes joined them a decade later.
Following the 1981 Education Act, most pupils with moderate learning difficulties integrated into mainstream schools and the role of our school underwent further changes. The proportion of pupils with sensory impairments increased and they moved into a new building on the site. A partnership with SENSE led to the acquisition of residential provision for some pupils. Pupils with severe learning difficulties also joined the school and more pupils came from other authorities.
Whitefield Schools and Centre, as it became has built up a formidable reputation. The professional library has national and international membership. Over the years the need to adapt, to change and to anticipate or influence national trends, without losing sight of the one basic principle of providing the best and most suitable education for pupils within the school, has been met.
Niels Chapman succeeded Peter Turner in 1993. Niels worked to establish exceptional opportunities for staff development. During his headship the Centre for Professional Development and Information expanded its work to offer courses from NVQ to Masters level and the Progression Scheme for learning support and teaching assistants was established. In 1994 the school became the first special school to become Grant Maintained, converting in 1999 to Foundation Special School status.
Our current Principal, Elaine Colquhoun, was appointed in 2011. In November 2011 the school gained its third 'Outstanding' judgement from Ofsted. The report stated that the school "continues to be an outstandingly successful establishment. It succeeds fully in its core aim of providing the highest possible standards of education and support for children, families and staff".
In 2012, the school also gained 'Teaching School' status enabling further professional development of our teachers and support staff.
Then in April 2014, Whitefield Schools and Centre joined forces with Joseph Clarke School to become Whitefield Academy Trust.
Outreach and specialist training activity has grown exponentially, serving special schools on the Indian sub-continent and in Africa as well as local mainstream schools.
In years gone by the school was visited by HRH Princess of Wales (1987), The Princess Royal (1990) and HM the Queen (1993). They head a list that includes bishops and show business/sports celebrities. Since 1993 high profile visitors have included two Prime Ministers and several Members of Parliament.