Weald of Kent Grammar School in Tonbridge has begun a parental consultation on becoming a co-educational school, which will in turn enable it to open a legally compliant grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks.
Following talks with the Educational Funding Agency and Kent County Council, Weald of Kent’s governing body has unanimously decided to consult with current parents and staff about whether to open an annexe in Sevenoaks and, in doing so, become co-educational. Existing Weald of Kent students will continue to be educated at the Tonbridge site. Responses from parents are requested by 21st March 2014.
It is expected that an annexe run by a co-educational grammar school will overcome the legal obstacles currently preventing Education Secretary Michael Gove from approving the Sevenoaks annexe.
Greater Choice And More Places
The Weald of Kent Grammar School sites in Tonbridge and Sevenoaks will be the first co-educational grammar facilities in West Kent, offering parents for the first time the choice of a co-educational grammar school education for their children. A total of 15 single sex grammar schools will continue to be available in the West Kent region (in Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone, Orpington and Dartford), but Weald of Kent’s two sites will the first co-educational grammar facilities.
The Sevenoaks annexe will have 6 forms of entry (6FE), and will therefore create 180 extra (and much needed) grammar school places per year.
In addition, with over half the students currently attending Weald of Kent being from Sevenoaks, the opening of the Sevenoaks annexe is expected to free up significant extra grammar school places in Tonbridge, making it easier for Tonbridge students to gain admission to Tonbridge grammar schools in future:
“Weald of Kent Academy, as the provider of the satellite school, would experience a reallocation of its intake… It would probably create between 1 and 2FE of available capacity at Weald of Kent in Tonbridge.”
[Source: Proposal to Develop a Weald of Kent Grammar Academy Trust Satellite School in Sevenoaks, Kent (1 July 2013)]
The co-educational Sevenoaks annexe will therefore provide a greater choice of grammar school education, and more grammar school places, for the children and parents of West Kent.
The Need For A Sevenoaks Grammar Annexe
Weald of Kent’s letter to parents of 7 March identifies the need for the Sevenoaks annexe:
“Data provided by KCC was derived from the most recent School Census…KCC conclude that there will be insufficient year 7 capacity in the areas of Sevenoaks South, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. The shortfall is currently about 4 forms of entry, but KCC forecast that it will increase to 8 forms of entry by 2020.
“Without additional capacity being sited in Sevenoaks, KCC judge that students resident in Sevenoaks District will become increasingly disadvantaged, year on year, both in access to selective education and the distances that they have to travel to find education.”
An early foretaste of this problem occurred this week when it became apparent that a significant number of students in north Sevenoaks who had passed the 11 plus exam had not been offered grammar school places on National Offer Day.
Unfortunately, as KCC’s figures demonstrate, more and more local students in future (including those in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells) will be denied grammar school places as the population of West Kent grows. The only long term solution is to therefore open the annexe in Sevenoaks to provide the desperately needed extra grammar school places.
No Alternative Plan
After an extensive legal review carried out by the DofE last year on behalf of Michael Gove, it is clear that Weald of Kent becoming co-educational is the only way for a legally compliant Sevenoaks grammar annexe to be created. Consequently, in arriving at their co-ed decision, KCC and the Weald governors will need to balance the right of girls in Years 4 and below (ie. those who will potentially be affected by the decision to become co-ed) to be taught in single sex classes in future, against the right to a grammar school education of the 180 West Kent children per year who would otherwise be denied a grammar school place in future (despite passing the 11 plus) in the absence of the Sevenoaks annexe.
(The 180 shortfall is based on KCC’s population growth figures, which are based on the current School Census – ie. the number of actual children who are currently being taught in West Kent primary schools).
A factor in reaching this decision will also include the existence of seven other girls grammar schools in the West Kent region (Tonbridge (1), Tunbridge Wells (1), Maidstone (2), Dartford (2) and Orpington(1)), meaning that parents seeking a single sex grammar education for their daughters will have a large number of alternative choices.
A further factor will also be that, for the first time, West Kent parents will have the choice of a co-educational grammar school education for their children at Weald’s Tonbridge and Sevenoaks sites. As almost all state educated children are taught in co-educational primary schools, it is expected that the option of a co-educational grammar school at secondary level will prove to be a popular choice with West Kent parents.
It is likely therefore that a decision will be taken to ensure that 180 West Kent children per year, who would otherwise be denied a grammar school place in the absence of the Sevenoaks annexe, are granted a grammar school education, and that this will unfortunately outweigh the needs of some girls (in years 4 and below) to be taught in single sex grammar classes when other good alternatives exist. (Note: these girls will not be denied a grammar school education unlike the 180 West Kent children if Weald were not to become co-educational, these girls will merely be potentially denied single sex grammar classes although a wide choice of alternative single sex schools do exist).
There is a good analysis by Paul Francis, political editor of the Kent Messenger, of the implications of Weald becoming a co-educational school here:-