The Campaign

The Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign was established by a group of Sevenoaks parents in December 2011 who hope to establish a grammar school in Sevenoaks.

“Grammar school” means a state funded school that is free to pupils and which selects its pupils by academic ability. Since 1964, new grammar schools have been banned by law, and this remains the case today. However, a recent change in the law enables existing grammar schools to expand and establish “annexe” grammar schools on empty sites in nearby towns. For example, an existing grammar school in (say) Tonbridge could now establish an “annexe” grammar school on an empty site in Sevenoaks.

The Campaign is being led by Sarah Shilling and Andrew Shilling, who meet regularly with a core team of Sevenoaks parents to share ideas, to share knowledge, and to discuss feedback from other parents, with the aim of determining how best to achieve a Sevenoaks grammar school.

The Campaign is a non-political, grassroots group that is unaffiliated to other organisations. It is an unfunded group, and all of its members give their time and knowledge for free. Most importantly, the campaigners are a very determined, knowledgeable and resourceful group of parents with a clear and unified aim.

Campaign Background

Sarah and Andrew both attended Cranbrook School, a Kent grammar school, in the 1980s, and have therefore benefited from the excellent education that Kent grammar schools provide. They have lived in Sevenoaks, Kent for nearly 20 years, and are the parents of three school age children.

The absence of a grammar school in Sevenoaks (the only major town in Kent without a grammar school) has been causing problems for local children for many years. The principal problems are the long distances that Sevenoaks children travel to grammar schools in nearby towns, and the frequent lack of places available to Sevenoaks children who pass the 11 pass test.

Sarah began actively campaigning for a Sevenoaks grammar school in March 2009 when she wrote to Sevenoaks MP, Michael Fallon, and Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron MP, asking for the Conservative Party to commit to establishing a Sevenoaks grammar school in the event of a Conservative victory at the 2010 General Election. No such commitment was given.

Respected local figures such as Michael Fallon, and Amherst School Headteacher, Derry Wiltshire, had also been calling for the establishment of a Sevenoaks grammar school for many years. This was displayed most prominently in the “Schools Adjudicator” Campaign in 2010 when Mr Fallon, Mr Wiltshire, a large group of Sevenoaks parents, and Kent County Council (“KCC”) teamed up to challenge the super-selective admissions policies of certain grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

The Schools Adjudicator was lobbied to abolish super-selection on the basis that the relevant West Kent grammar schools admitted out of county children in preference to Sevenoaks children, thus denying Sevenoaks children grammar school places. As part of this campaign, a mass letter-writing campaign to the Schools Adjudicator was launched by Sevenoaks parents, with Sarah and Andrew taking leading roles in organising and writing these letters with the parents. Unfortunately, this campaign failed as the Schools Adjudicator ruled in favour of the relevant grammar schools, and super-selection was therefore retained.

At that time (June 2010), Mr Wiltshire also spoke at a meeting of over 200 parents at Amherst School and called for a Sevenoaks grammar school to be established on the school site that was shortly to be vacated by the new Knole Academy, in order to solve the shortage of West Kent grammar school places once and for all.

Newspaper articles from this period are below:-

http://www.thisiskent.co.uk/end-schools-trauma/story-12005649-detail/story.html

http://www.michaelfallon.org.uk/?p=1688

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-11572223

The current Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign was triggered by a letter that Sarah wrote to Councillor Mike Whiting in October 2011, following Sarah’s discussions with local parents. Mr Whiting had just been appointed as the new KCC Education Chief, and Sarah therefore wrote to him on behalf of many local parents to request that KCC (the Local Education Authority) consider establishing a Sevenoaks grammar school on the Wildernesse School site (recently vacated by the Knole Academy), to cater for the Sevenoaks children who were suffering long journeys to grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, and to increase the number of grammar school places in West Kent.

Sarah also met with Michael Fallon to discuss the possibility of establishing a Sevenoaks grammar school. Serendipitously, and unbeknown to Sarah, a change in the law enabling existing grammar schools to expand and establish “annexe” grammar schools in nearby towns was being debated in Parliament at the same time (and was subsequently enacted). At their meeting, Mr Fallon alerted Sarah to the potential law change, and its implications.

In response to her letter, Mr Whiting then met with Sarah and Andrew, other Sevenoaks parents, and Sarah and Andrew’s local KCC councillor (and former Sevenoaks mayor) Richard Parry in December 2011, to discuss Sarah’s request for a Sevenoaks grammar school. Mr Whiting was sympathetic to the plight of the Sevenoaks children and their long journeys, but was unsure as to the level of support amongst local parents for a Sevenoaks grammar school.

Sarah and Andrew were however convinced that there was a very significant level of local support amongst parents. They therefore decided to establish the Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign to ascertain the level of support amongst the local community, and to try to persuade Mr Whiting and KCC to establish a Sevenoaks grammar school.

Sarah and Andrew therefore posted an e-petition onto KCC’s website calling for a Sevenoaks grammar school, and set about promoting the e-petition with the local community. They hoped to receive 1,000 signatures from local parents in order to trigger a debate at KCC’s next full council meeting. They were stunned when they obtained the 1,000 signatures in just 18 days over the Christmas holidays, thus triggering the KCC debate. The Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign was now making real and tangible progress.

At the KCC debate meeting on 29th March 2012, Andrew gave a speech to the KCC councillors on behalf of the over 2,600 local parents who were now calling for a Sevenoaks grammar school. KCC were thus persuaded over both the need for new grammar school places in Sevenoaks, and the overwhelming public support for this. Mr Parry proposed a vote on the matter, and 66 councillors then voted to establish a new satellite grammar school in Sevenoaks, and only 3 voted against. Astonishingly, parent power had won through.

Mr Whiting was then tasked by KCC with the job of working up a full grammar school proposal, which would include details of the partner grammar schools, potential sites and funding options. Mr Whiting said that he would begin talks with the key players, and that he and KCC intended to work through the various statutory and legal processes to establish grammar school places in Sevenoaks as soon as possible.

Campaign Website

This website is designed and hosted by local student and supporter Aaron Shaw (of RAAMweb), and the written material is provided by Andrew Shilling.