Nearly fours years to the day since Sevenoaks parents launched their campaign, the Sevenoaks grammar school annexe has at last been granted approval by Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan.
A girls annexe of Weald Of Kent Grammar School will now open in Sevenoaks in September 2017. Planning permission for the Sevenoaks grammar building was granted last year, and the builders Willmott Dixon are present on the school site to begin the building work.
Click on the video below to see Sevenoaks Grammar School campaigner Sarah Shilling’s in-depth interview with the BBC explaining the issues behind today’s decision:-
Commenting on today’s announcement, Andrew Shilling of the Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign said:
“This is a victory for parent power, persistence and local determination. It has been nearly four years to the day since the town’s high school announced it was vacating the Wildernesse site and we began campaigning to open a grammar school there instead.
“Today’s news addresses the deep unfairness of Sevenoaks being the only district in Kent without a grammar school, which forces 1,100 Sevenoaks children to travel daily to grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, a round trip of up to 25 miles and two hours. 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.
“Whilst today’s announcement is most welcome, excluding boys from the Sevenoaks grammar annexe is very unfortunate. We are therefore lobbying the Government to abolish the ridiculous law introduced in 1998 that prohibits the establishment of new grammar schools. This law change would enable boys to attend the Sevenoaks grammar school along with girls.”
In a written ministerial statement on 15th October 2015 the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, stated that she had approved a revised proposal from the Weald of Kent Grammar School to expand onto a satellite site in Sevenoaks:-
“I have today written to the head teacher at the Weald of Kent Grammar School in Tonbridge, Kent, to confirm that I have approved their proposal to expand on to a new site in Sevenoaks, Kent.
“It is this Government’s policy that all good and outstanding schools should be able to expand to offer excellent places to local students. The Weald of Kent Grammar School is one of the top performing schools in the country, with 99% of its students achieving five A*-C grades in GCSE exams in 2014, and 98% of sixth form students achieving at least 3 A-Levels at grades A*-E.
“The Weald of Kent Grammar School submitted a proposal for expansion in 2013. At that stage the then Secretary of State could not approve the proposal as an expansion because the proposal at that time was for a mixed sex annexe when the existing school was single sex. The school submitted a revised proposal in September 2015 under which girls will be educated on both sites alongside a mixed sex sixth form.
“I am satisfied that this proposal represents a genuine expansion of the existing school, and that there will be integration between the two sites in terms of leadership, management, governance, admissions and curriculum. I am also satisfied that the excellent quality of learning currently delivered will be replicated across the newly expanded school. I welcome the fact that the newly expanded school will better meet the needs of parents in the local area, with 41% of existing pupils at the Weald of Kent Grammar School already travelling from the Sevenoaks area.
“The school expects to be able to start educating pupils at its new Sevenoaks site from September 2017.
“My decision in this case has been taken on the basis of the proposal from the Weald of Kent, in line with legislation and criteria determining what constitutes an expansion. It does not reflect a change in this Government’s position on selective schools. Rather it reaffirms our view that all good schools should be able to expand, a policy which is vital to meet the significant increase in demand for pupil places in coming years.”
*A public consultation in 2013 recorded 2,068 local people (98%) in favour of a grammar annexe and only 41 people (2%) against.