Pressure is growing on Education Secretary Michael Gove to approve the opening of the Sevenoaks grammar school annexe. Mr Gove has been considering his decision for over four months, an unusual state of affairs that has been highlighted in recent days by the national press.
The Daily Telegraph’s editorial of 26th November 2013 said:
“Among Michael Gove’s welcome decisions when he became Education Secretary was the one to bring in powers allowing grammar schools to expand – should parents wish it. Many Conservatives would have liked the party to create more grammars. But since that was not to be, allowing extant ones to grow was considered a decent enough option.
It is, therefore, somewhat disconcerting to discover that an attempt by one local authority to use these powers is being challenged in Mr Gove’s own department. Officials are concerned that plans in Sevenoaks, Kent, to build an “annexe” that could take up to 1,300 pupils really equates to the creation of a new school, rather than the expansion of an existing one.
But doesn’t the logic of Gove’s policy, that good institutions should be allowed to expand, mean that the Kent proposal should be given the green light? It would be the first new grammar school to open its doors in 50 years, and it should not be necessary to disguise it as an annexe. It is folly to try to achieve something that parents patently want in such an underhand way. New grammars are banned by law, yet whenever pollsters ask the public if they want selective schools, 70 per cent or more say yes.
Anti-selective school campaigners say that if the Sevenoaks expansion goes ahead, there will be a flood of similar applications. But this could only happen if parents wanted such schools; and such empowerment is supposed to be the aim of Mr Gove’s reforms. His ambition is to see a mix of establishments – free schools, academies, comprehensives and independents. There must be a place for the grammars too; so we anticipate an early decision by the Department for Education allowing the Kent site to proceed.”
The Daily Mail’s editorial of 25th November said:
“In Kent, where school places are in huge demand, plans have been submitted to build a 1,200-place expansion to a grammar school in Sevenoaks.
Education officials were hoping to take advantage of a rule change by Michael Gove which states that – while Labour’s ideologically driven ban on opening new grammars remains in place – existing schools can expand into new campuses. But Mr Gove has now put the project on hold while he decides whether 1,200 extra places effectively amounts to a new school, and is, therefore, not allowed.
How much simpler – and better for Britain’s children – it would be if the Tories stopped obsessing about their politically correct ‘image’ and overturned the misguided block on new grammar schools without delay.”
The Sunday Express’s editorial of 17th November said:
“Education Secretary Michael Gove is to be applauded for easing Labour’s ludicrous restrictions on grammar school expansion. So it makes his foot-dragging over approving a satellite grammar in Sevenoaks all the more baffling. The suspicion must be that Mr Gove is trying to spare a row with Lib Dem coalition partners opposed to selective education.
The Education Secretary must stop playing politics with pupils’ lives because when he finally makes up his mind no one will be happier than the 1,200 Sevenoaks children currently being bussed 30 miles a day to and from the nearest selective school.”