On 29th March, Kent County Council (“KCC”) debated the establishment of a Sevenoaks Grammar School in the Council Chamber at County Hall in Maidstone. The Council debate had been triggered by an e-petition established by the Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign, which achieved over 2,600 signatures. Campaigner Andrew Shilling gave the following speech to open the debate:-
Paul Carter, KCC Leader, gave the following speech during the debate:-
A vote on establishing new grammar schools places in Sevenoaks was then taken by the councillors. This was passed 66 to 3, with 1 abstention, and was followed by a speech by Mike Whiting, KCC Cabinet Member For Education:-
The full text of Andrew Shilling’s speech is below.
Andrew Shilling’s Speech To Kent County Council
Madame Chairman, I represent over 2,600 people who are petitioning the Council to establish a community grammar school in Sevenoaks.
For many years, Kent has had a county-wide grammar school system. Many of us present, including me, benefited from the excellent education that Kent grammar schools provide.
Unfortunately, Sevenoaks is the only major town within the Kent grammar school system that is without a grammar school.
Nearby Kent towns have many grammar schools: Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells have three each, Dartford and Maidstone have four each. But, for no good reason, Sevenoaks has none.
Madame Chairman, the absence of a Sevenoaks grammar school has a profoundly negative effect on local children.
Every day, over 1,100 Sevenoaks children must travel to grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, a round trip of up to 25 miles.
From a young age, many of these children spend up to two hours commuting each day.
This negatively impacts on their ability to learn, on their opportunities for hobbies and sport, on their opportunities to develop friendships, and on the time they spend with their families.
And this is not just an issue for grammar school children – every day nearly 800 other Sevenoaks children attend non-selective schools in other towns; only 600 choose to attend the local Academy in Sevenoaks. These children also suffer from excessive travelling, and they deserve a voice too.
Madame Chairman, the absence of a Sevenoaks grammar school means that Sevenoaks children who pass the 11 plus test are increasingly being denied places at West Kent grammar schools, because they live outside of the ever shrinking catchment areas.
This problem was highlighted earlier this month when around 100 upset and confused West Kent children (mostly from Sevenoaks) passed the 11 plus test, but were not offered West Kent grammar school places, because these schools were already full.
Even Sevenoaks children who scored as highly as 99% of the full mark on the 11 plus test were not offered grammar school places.
Madame Chairman, these children are distraught. They think they have failed, but this is not true.
They have only missed out on a grammar school place because they have the misfortune to live in the only Kent town without a grammar school.
Madame Chairman, these children studied hard; they succeeded; but they were let down by the system.
Tragically, this situation will soon get much worse, because the population of West Kent is growing rapidly.
Indeed, many primary schools in West Kent are already opening extra classrooms to cater for this population surge, and this surge will hit the secondary schools in a few years’ time.
Madame Chairman, this will make grammar school places even harder to come by, and deny even more children the education they deserve.
The situation is truly shocking. If the population continues to grow as predicted, then it will not be long before all Sevenoaks children are outside of the catchment areas of the Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells community grammar schools.
This will mean that their only option will be the so-called “super-selective” grammar schools that select only the very highest scoring children.
Sevenoaks children will then be competing for admission with children from London, Surrey and Sussex, meaning that only a minority of Sevenoaks children who pass the 11 plus test will be granted a grammar school place.
Madame Chairman, a community grammar school is what the people of Sevenoaks want.
Last month, an independent survey of parents conducted by the Sevenoaks Chronicle newspaper found that 70% were in favour of a new grammar school in the town, but only 19% were in favour of a new Christian school, and only 11% were in favour of an all-abilities school.
And most importantly, 2,620 local people have signed our petition calling for a grammar school in Sevenoaks, and many are here today.
This is an incredible number – it is more than the total number of secondary school children in the whole of the Sevenoaks area.
Madame Chairman, the children of Sevenoaks have suffered this injustice for far too long.
A community grammar school in Sevenoaks would ensure that all local children who pass the 11 plus test would receive the grammar school education they deserve.
- It is a local solution to a local issue.
- It is what parents want.
- It is the right thing for Sevenoaks.
- It is the right thing for Kent.
Madame Chairman, I urge the Council to support our petition.