After lengthy deliberations taking five months, Education Secretary Michael Gove has blocked plans for a grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks. Mr Gove decided that the annexe would represent a new grammar school, which is prohibited by law, rather than the extension of an existing grammar school.
Mr Gove’s legal ruling hinged on the issue of a girls grammar school being the sponsor of a Sevenoaks annexe for both girls and boys. The planned entry of Sevenoaks boys to the annexe lead Mr Gove to rule that the annexe’s proposed admissions policy was sufficiently different to the sponsor school’s girls-only admissions policy to constitute a wholly new grammar school. (New grammar schools are banned under The School Standards and Framework Act 1998).
Commenting on Mr Gove’s decision, Andrew Shilling of the Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign said:
Since last week’s disappointing news, we have been inundated with local parents who are furious at Michael Gove’s decision, and we have received numerous messages of support from all over the country.
“The great shame with this decision is that we had comprehensively won the moral argument, as was demonstrated by Invicta Grammar’s public consultation over the summer recording 2,068 people (98%) in favour of a grammar annexe and only 41 people (2%) against.
“It is therefore clear that a Sevenoaks grammar school continues to be sought by the vast majority of local parents and pupils. As a consequence of this overwhelming level of public support, we are not giving up our campaign. Instead, we are re-doubling our efforts to make the voice of Sevenoaks parents and pupils heard so that our grammar school becomes a reality.
“We are therefore actively pursuing two avenues towards our goal. Firstly, we are lobbying the Government through our MP Michael Fallon to abolish within Kent the ridiculous law introduced by Tony Blair’s Government that prohibits the establishment of new grammar schools.
“Secondly, we are exploring with Paul Carter and Roger Gough of KCC the modification of the current annexe plans to enable them to comply with Mr Gove’s interpretation of the law. As part of these discussions, we are greatly encouraged to hear that 90% of the Wildernesse site will continue to be retained by KCC for a future grammar school, with the remaining 10% leased to the Trinity School as planned.
“We may have lost this battle on a legal technicality. However, we have the democratically expressed backing of 98% of local parents for a grammar school, and the force of their moral argument is therefore immense. Our fight therefore continues and, in the end, natural justice demands that we shall prevail.
Mr Gove’s decision was widely reported in the national press including the following editorial in the 14th December edition of The Daily Telegraph:-
Blocking Excellence In Education
“The revelation that Michael Gove has blocked the expansion of a grammar school into Sevenoaks, Kent, is bitterly disappointing. This is a part of the country where academic selection still exists and demand for places is reportedly high. The bureaucrats’ argument is that this particular proposal defies current rules, saying that new grammar schools cannot be built, only old ones expanded – and that the experiment in Kent was so large and innovative that it clearly represented a new foundation.
“But this argument runs counter to the Government’s own commitment to foster excellence and choice in education. If people want a grammar school, be it labelled an annexe to satisfy the pen-pushers or proudly advertised as an independent institution, why should the people not have it? Polls consistently show that 70% or more of the public would like to see selection return, and for obvious reasons. In an age in which British schools are falling behind their international competitors, the grammar sector remains not only high performing but also open to people from all classes. These schools are dynamic motors of social mobility.
“If the Department for Education finds diversity and excellence blocked by the existing rules, then we suggest that they change those rules as soon as possible. It is odd to see a Tory government sacrifice high standards to suit outdated egalitarian whims.”
The Sevenoaks Chronicle provided the most extensive coverage of Mr Gove’s decision including the following editorial in its 19th December edition:
Time To Abandon Ideology And Listen To What We Want
“Opponents – largely outside Sevenoaks – are celebrating. The Government’s verdict is a blow to selective education, they say. But is it really? Kent still has the same number of grammars today as it had last week.
“The truth is, all last week’s announcement achieved was to ensure 1,500 of our kids still don’t have the right to choose the education they want in the town where they live.
“It’s time that people laid their political ideology to one side and listened to what Sevenoaks parents and pupils want. And, having heard, those in power need to act on what is said.”
The story was featured widely on television including BBC News, ITV News and Channel 4 News:-
Other press coverage can be found here:-