The school is (since 2002) a non-selective voluntary aided state comprehensive school describe by Ofsted as "an exceptional school of real excellence". The school excels at Performing Arts and Sports. In 2004 as part of the European Year of Education through Sport it won the award of "Europe's most sport minded school".
There have been no tests since 2001 nor interviews since 2003 for admission due to DfES pressure. Current applications are made via application form completed by the prospective students' parents and, months later, by a second form completed by the students themselves. It is important to note that this is not an examination but is heavily scrutinised. The school is heavily oversubscribed with approximately 5 applicants for each of the 180 places.
The Nicholas Gibson Free School was founded in 1536 by a prominent citizen of the City of London who earned his living as a grocer. On his death in 1549 Gibson's wife, Avice, took over the running of the school which could take up to sixty boys. In 1552 she asked the Coopers' Company to undertake the management of the School for her and thus the school included the Company's title in its name. The school was situated in Ratcliff, now present-day Stepney.
Prisca Coborn, the widow of a brewer, established a coeducational school in Bow in 1701 as a result of the terms of her will, published in the year of her death.
The school was first housed in a site east of Bow Church, quickly moving to a site between the church and Bow Bridge. In 1814 the School moved to a site which later became part of the Bryant and May match factory. In 1870 the school moved to a site in Tredegar Square, later to be occupied by the Coopers' Company's Boys' School.
In 1891 the two foundations were united with the boys moving to Tredegar Square; Coborn, now an all-girls school, moved to 86 Bow Road. In 1898 Coborn School was moved to 29-31 Bow Road where it remained until the move to Cranham, near Upminster. As a result of the amalgamation of the two schools to form the then voluntary aided school, the new site was first occupied at Cranham in 1971 and by 1973 the whole school had moved into these new premises.