Thank you to all of our fantastic supporters for providing their continuing helpful feedback. Many of you have raised excellent questions, and we have reproduced these below.
The Benefits Of A Sevenoaks Grammar School
Q: How will children from Sevenoaks and the surrounding area benefit from a Sevenoaks Grammar School?
A: The impact on Sevenoaks area children from travelling long distances to grammar schools has been very noticeable in comparison to when they attended local primary schools. There are many Sevenoaks grammar school children who must get up very early in the morning, and who then struggle through the day. Many miss out on after-school activities due to the lack of available transport; many battle with tiredness when studying at home in the evening. Furthermore, for three months every year, they must leave home and travel to school in the dark, which has obvious dangers.
A Sevenoaks Grammar School would remove these problems from local children. Furthermore, our children would feel part of their own community through their school, and would have greater opportunities to continue with, and develop new, friendships locally, and spend more time with their families.
Further details on the long distances travelled by Sevenoaks area children to schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells can be found here:-
Secondary Educational Provision In Sevenoaks
Q: Why is Kent’s selective education system not working properly in Sevenoaks?
A: Kent’s education system might have worked well in Sevenoaks if Kent grammar schools were evenly distributed over the county, but they are not; Sevenoaks District has no grammar school at all. This means that children from Sevenoaks and, in particular, from its surrounding villages to the north and west, are seriously disadvantaged when grammar school places are allocated.
Significant issues for Sevenoaks include the following:
- Across Kent as a whole, the number of secondary school places in state schools equates to about 88% of the county’s secondary-aged children. (The remaining 12% are private school places). For individual Districts, excluding Sevenoaks, for every 100 secondary-aged children the number of secondary places ranges from 108 in Maidstone to 85 in Ashford. But for Sevenoaks, the corresponding figure is a paltry 35 places. By way of comparison, Sevenoaks provides school places for 86 out of every 100 primary-aged children.
- Across Kent as a whole, 28% of the places in mainstream secondary schools are in grammar schools. Excluding Sevenoaks, the number of grammar school places as a percentage of total secondary places varies, by District, between 40% (Dartford) and 22% (Gravesham). But for Sevenoaks the corresponding figure is 0% – there are no grammar schools at all in Sevenoaks District.
So Sevenoaks has an inadequate provision of secondary schools, and a profoundly inadequate provision of grammar schools.
As a result, a high proportion of children living in Sevenoaks have to travel outside the District to go to secondary school, mainly to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, as well as Dartford. Sevenoaks District is the highest exporter of students to other districts; in fact more Sevenoaks children travel to other districts for their secondary education than are educated within the District itself. (Of the Sevenoaks area children who left state primary schools in 2010-11, 441 were offered places at secondary schools, 117 (27%) within Sevenoaks District and 324 (73%) outside of Sevenoaks District).
Many Sevenoaks children suffer this built-in disadvantage, and have to travel a long way to get to secondary school. And all the children who attend grammar schools have to travel outside the District. Furthermore, when schools use proximity as an over-subscription criterion, Sevenoaks children tend to find themselves at the back of the queue.
Sevenoaks families and their children have suffered this injustice for too long. The time is overdue for it to be remedied.
Q: When will we know whether the Sevenoaks Grammar School proposal has succeeded?
A: The Grammar School approval process has been designed to move extremely quickly so that, if approved, the Grammar School can open in September 2013, and thereby be available to children currently in Year 5. The final decision on whether to proceed with the Sevenoaks Grammar School will be taken by KCC at their full council meeting on 29th March at County Hall in Maidstone.
KCC’s decision on whether to proceed with the Sevenoaks Grammar School will be taken four months before central government’s decision on whether to approve the Christian School (which will be announced by the end of July). An assessment of whether a suitable school site is available will form an essential part of central government’s decision on whether to approve the Christian School.
Q: Will academic selection in the proposed grammar school in Sevenoaks result in social exclusion?
A: Our ambition is to create a grammar school in Sevenoaks that is socially inclusive, as this will provide the best possible education for the young people of the town.
From September 2012, KCC will no longer fund school bus and train journeys from Sevenoaks to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells grammar schools*. A child who already receives funding will continue to receive this funding, but any new students will not. There are many varied bus and train journeys available to the Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells grammar schools, and an unsubsidised season ticket costs between £490 and £1800 annually per child**. For a family with three children, from September, travel costs will therefore amount to £1470 – £5400 per year.
These travel costs are socially divisive as they put Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells grammar schools beyond the financial reach of some Sevenoaks families. A grammar school in Sevenoaks would therefore eliminate these costs and be more socially inclusive as the school would not be beyond the reach of any Sevenoaks family. This would hopefully improve social mobility in the town over the longer term.
Furthermore, the money saved on journeys to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells would be available for better use, such as being spent on schools. The smaller number of journeys would also reduce rush hour congestion in Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.
Children in other parts of Kent would also benefit from a grammar school in Sevenoaks in reduced travel times and travel costs. Fewer Sevenoaks children would take places at Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells grammar schools, meaning that more Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells children would be awarded places there. This would mean less travelling and travel costs for these children as well, and this would hopefully improve social inclusion in those towns.
Buckinghamshire currently faces the same problem, as the article below explains:-
*Many Sevenoaks area children travel to schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, and by far the greatest number are grammar school children. In relation to the 328 Sevenoaks area children who were offered places at secondary schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells for 2011/12, 204 (62%) were offered grammar school places in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells; 54 (17%) were offered non-selective school places in Tonbridge; 70 (21%) were offered Christian faith school places in Tunbridge Wells.
**A bus pass to Tonbridge costs £490 per year. An annual rail season ticket from Sevenoaks to Tunbridge Wells costs £872. The special school bus from Sevenoaks to Tunbridge Wells costs £1800 per year.
Q: What values will be held by the Sevenoaks Grammar School?
A: We wish to establish a school that achieves academic excellence; that allows each pupil to achieve their full potential; and that contributes to the life of the local community. Our school will have a strong community focus, including a moral and educational obligation to work with the local primary schools and the Sevenoaks non-selective secondary school (The Knole Academy) to increase the educational aspirations and skills of all local children.
Q: What will be the ethos of the Grammar School, and how will this be determined?
A: If the Grammar School is approved by KCC on 29th March then it will be funded and sited by KCC, and it will be designed (in relation to its curriculum, ethos, academic standards, size and admissions policy) by Sevenoaks area parents, KCC, and the two expanding (boys’ and girls’)grammar schools from nearby towns.
KCC is our local education authority and so has a proven track record of establishing and running successful schools in Kent. Our teaching staff will be recruited by (and from) the two expanding grammar schools based on the candidates’ knowledge and teaching abilities without regard to their religious faith.
As parents, our aim is that the ethos of the Grammar School will to be to serve the needs of local community by providing a broad and balanced evidence-based academic curriculum using established scientifically and/or historically proven facts, to facilitate the pursuit of knowledge and to enable every child to achieve their full potential. As a specific example of our aims, we will ensure that the Grammar School’s curriculum teaches evolution as a scientific fact rather than as a theory (evolution being no more of a “theory” than gravity). An e-petition addressing this issue has been established on HM Government’s website, and has received over 21,000 signatures:-
Q: How large will the Sevenoaks Grammar School be?
A: In relation to the academic year 2011/12, 204 Sevenoaks area children were offered places at Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells grammar schools – 109 at super selective schools and 95 at non-super selective schools.
It is too early to say how many children will choose the Sevenoaks Grammar School (which will be non-super selective), and how many will prefer to attend the super selective schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. However, based on the views of the people we have spoken to, provided that the Sevenoaks Grammar School has high academic standards, most parents say that they would prefer their children to attend the Sevenoaks Grammar School.
It therefore appears that a four form entry Sevenoaks Grammar School of 120 pupils would likely be over-subscribed. This is before any consideration of future increases in population. Therefore, a six form entry (three boys’ forms; three girls’ forms) Sevenoaks Grammar School may prove to be a more appropriate solution to the educational needs of Sevenoaks and its surrounding villages.
Single Sex Lessons
Q: Will mixed sex classes operate at the Sevenoaks Grammar School?
A: The law will require us to establish annexes of two existing grammar schools (both a boys’ school and a girls’ school) on the same site in Sevenoaks. The law will require these two annexes to operate separately, meaning there will be single sex lessons only.
Q: Should Kent’s schools become fully comprehensive to avoid the pressure that is being put on children to pass the 11 plus exam?
A: Kent has had a countywide selective education system since 1945, and nothing we do or say in Sevenoaks is going to change that. We therefore need to make the education system that applies to our children in Sevenoaks work better for us. We also need to urgently deal with this issue in the light of a rapidly increasing local population.
It is worth noting that 50%* of Sevenoaks town children pass the 11 plus exam, and so the number of children that currently gain admission to a grammar school is much higher as a proportion of the population than it was in the 1950s when only 20%-25% of children countrywide attended grammar schools.
We also hope that the existence of a grammar school in Sevenoaks will improve social mobility in the area as it should inspire many more local children to attempt the 11 plus exam, and encourage their primary schools to support this endeavour. In particular, we wish to inspire those children whose families cannot afford the long, expensive journey to the Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells grammar schools, and those children in villages to the north of Sevenoaks who are not currently in grammar school catchment areas but would be within a Sevenoaks Grammar School catchment area, to apply for a place at our Sevenoaks grammar school.
*There are 10 state primary schools that serve children from Sevenoaks town (Amherst, Weald, Sevenoaks, St Thomas’, Chevening, Otford, Lady Boswell’s, Dunton Green, Seal and St John’s). In 2010/11, these schools had 337 pupils in year 6, and 167 (50%) of these children passed the 11 plus exam.
The Wildernesse Site
Q: Can the Sevenoaks Grammar School and the proposed Christian School both share the vacant Wildernesse site when both schools open in September 2013?
A: Unfortunately, no. Two new secondary schools would be great news for Sevenoaks. However, as the Sevenoaks Grammar School is likely to be a large KCC funded school catering for up to 180 Sevenoaks area children per year*, it will clearly be impractical for the two schools to share the Wildernesse site as there will be insufficient space from September 2013.
In addition, it will be legally impossible for the two schools to share the same site. This is because the Grammar School will be funded by KCC, whereas the Christian School will be funded by central government. In addition, both schools will operate under completely different legislation and will be under different ownership. Therefore, as a matter of law, only one of the schools can occupy the Wildernesse site which, significantly, is owned by KCC rather than by central government.
Q: If the Wildernesse site is taken over by the Grammar School in September 2013, will there be another site available for the Christian School in Sevenoaks?
A: At present, nearly three times more Sevenoaks children attend grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells than attend the Christian faith schools in Tunbridge Wells*. The Christian School in Sevenoaks is therefore likely to be much smaller than the Sevenoaks Grammar School.
The Christian team say that there is another temporary site available in Sevenoaks for their school. This will presumably be a small site as it will only need to cater for Year 7 children initially. However, it is not clear where this site is, nor whether it will be available for opening in September 2013.
It is also not clear where the Christian school’s much larger permanent home will ultimately be (which will need to cater for children from Years 7-13) given that the KCC-owned Wildernesse site is very unlikely to be available at that time.
To clear up this matter, we hope that the Christian team can provide details of their temporary site, and also provide details of their eventual (and much larger) permanent home, as this will enable Sevenoaks parents to have all of the available facts when determining which school or schools to support.
*In relation to the Sevenoaks area children who were offered places at secondary schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells for 2011/12, 204 were offered grammar school places in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, and 70 were offered Christian faith school places in Tunbridge Wells.
Alleviating The Stress Of The Appeals Process
Q: How will a growing population impact on the grammar school places appeals process, something that is already very stressful for young children?
A: At present, due to the shortage of grammar school places in West Kent, many Sevenoaks area children who pass the 11 plus exam are not offered grammar school places when the initial allocations are made on 1st March every year. In many cases, these children are required to go through a stressful appeals process in order to be offered the grammar school places they deserve. This process can take many months, and in some cases can run up to (and beyond) the beginning of the academic year on 1st September.
This process, together with the uncertainty of outcome, can prove extremely stressful for young children and their parents. Furthermore, this problem will get much worse as the population of West Kent grows, creating an even greater shortage of grammar school places, meaning that many more 10 and 11 year old children will suffer unnecessarily.
A non-super selective Sevenoaks grammar school would eliminate this problem by ensuring that there are adequate local grammar school places available, meaning that all local children who pass the 11 plus exam would immediately be offered a grammar school place on 1st March every year.
The current shortage of grammar school places in West Kent also causes problems for the only secondary school currently located in Sevenoaks, the non-selective Knole Academy. On 1st March each year, many Sevenoaks area children who pass the 11 plus exam are offered places at The Knole Academy, much to their disappointment. However, several months later, as an outcome of the appeals process, these children are often awarded grammar schools places, and therefore they decline their places at The Knole Academy.
According to The Knole Academy head teacher, this causes significant problems for her school. This is because the school finds itself unable to plan for its new intake of pupils until a very late stage because it does not know the number of pupils to be admitted, and therefore how many teachers will need to be employed, how many classes will be required, and what the lessons timetable will be.
A non-super selective Sevenoaks grammar school would eliminate this problem by ensuring that there are adequate local grammar school places available, meaning that all local children who pass the 11 plus exam and choose a selective school would immediately be offered a grammar school place on 1st March every year, and would never be offered a place at The Knole Academy. The Knole Academy would then know at an early stage the number of new pupils that it would be admitting, and it would therefore be able to plan with confidence the number of new teachers and classes required.
Links to articles featuring Sevenoaks area children who passed the 11 plus exam but were not offered appropriate grammar school places when the initial allocations were made are below:-
The Impact On Local Primary Schools
Q: How will a Sevenoaks Grammar School impact on local primary schools?
A: The Sevenoaks Grammar School will have a strong community focus, including a moral and educational obligation to work with the local primary schools. We aim for our teaching staff to engage with the local community by providing science and language lessons to local primary school children to inspire and increase their educational aspirations.
Q: Who is supporting your campaign for a Sevenoaks Grammar School?
A: We are an unfunded, grassroots campaign that was established by a group of Sevenoaks area parents in December. All of our time is given for free. We now have over 2,500 fantastic supporters, and their names can be found here (with the newest supporters at the top). Please wait 20 seconds for this link to load on your PC:-
Our supporters are mostly parents from the Sevenoaks area, together with some grandparents and also a number of local residents who believe that a grammar school is the right thing for the town.
Q: I support your campaign and would like to help. How can I do this?
A: We have been overwhelmed by offers of help, and we would like to thank every single person who has done this. We please ask you to help us by raising local awareness of our campaign in the following ways:-
- By passing our website address on to your friends, family and contacts, and by posting it on to social forum websites.
- By frequently checking our website for the latest news – we will be posting regular news updates.
- By discussing the Sevenoaks Grammar School plan with your friends, family, contacts and other parents and encourage them to sign our e-Petition if they support our campaign.
- By emailing your local MP (Michael Fallon is the MP for Sevenoaks), your local KCC councillor and your local District Councillor to express your support for a Sevenoaks Grammar School, and to ask for their support by signing our e-Petition. You can find your local MP and local councillors by using the following websites:-