On 17th April, Andrew and Sarah Shilling – the parents who are leading the Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign – addressed around 100 MPs, including Education Secretary Michael Gove, at The House Of Commons in Westminster.
They were speaking at the ‘Friends of Grammar Schools’ reception hosted by leading backbench MP Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee.
Around 100 MPs attended, including Michael Gove; former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard; former leadership candidate David Davis; Tunbridge Wells MP and Planning Minister Greg Clark; Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon, and Dartford MP Gareth Johnson. Also in attendance were Kent Education Chief, Mike Whiting, and Head from many Kent grammar school:-
Michael Gove with Sarah & Andrew Shilling
Sarah Shilling & Michael Fallon
The full text of Andrew Shilling’s speech to MPs is below.
Andrew Shilling’s Speech at The House Of Commons
My name is Andrew Shilling, and my wife Sarah and I represent the Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign. I am going to briefly tell you about our campaign, its wider ramifications, and ask for your help.
For many years, Kent has had a county-wide grammar school system, and unlike most of the rest of the country, grammar schools are a popular and accepted part of Kent’s daily life. They have enabled many Kent children from modest backgrounds, including Sarah and me, to benefit from an excellent academic education. In fact, we were the first members of our families to attend university.
We started our campaign because Sevenoaks is the only major town within the Kent grammar school system that is without a grammar school, and this has a profoundly negative effect on local children. Every day, over 1,100 Sevenoaks children must travel to grammar schools in other Kent towns, a round trip of up two hours.
Also, Sevenoaks children who pass the 11 plus test are often denied grammar school places, because they live outside of the ever shrinking catchment areas. Indeed, last month, over 100 West Kent children (mostly from Sevenoaks) passed the 11 plus, but were not offered places. Even children who scored as highly as 99% were not offered places.
And this situation will soon get much worse, because the population of West Kent is growing rapidly.
So, when in December, our MP, Michael Fallon, alerted us to the law change that enables grammar schools to expand, we decided to act.
We therefore set up our Campaign to persuade our Local Education Authority, Kent County Council, and its Education Chief, Mike Whiting, to establish a grammar school in Sevenoaks, and we posted an e-petition on the Council’s website. Our target was to achieve 1,000 signatures from local parents, as this would trigger a full Council debate.
It soon became clear that there was a huge demand from local parents for a grammar school, and so we attained our target in only 18 days. We eventually achieved over 2,600 signatures – more than the total number of secondary school children in the whole of the Sevenoaks area.
The Council debate then took place on 29th March, where I spoke on behalf of the Sevenoaks parents. A vote was then called on establishing a new satellite grammar school in Sevenoaks, and 66 councillors voted in favour, and only 3 voted against. The satellite school was therefore approved.
The Sevenoaks experience shows that when parents are asked what schools they want, a large number will vote for academic schools, including grammar schools – indicating that there is a demand for academic schools that is not being satisfied by the current system. However, it does not follow that the Sevenoaks satellite school heralds the reintroduction of grammar schools across the country.
This is because Sevenoaks has specific circumstances that are likely to make it a one-off. In particular, it has a very large number of commuting pupils and, perhaps uniquely, an LEA willing to fund a new grammar school. A large increase in new grammar schools will therefore not come about via satellite schools. Instead, this will only happen if there is a radical change in government policy.
But even a satellite school is not the best solution for Sevenoaks, because it is not a new school; it is merely an extension to an existing school, and this presents practical difficulties. These include the need to set up two satellites, one for boys and one for girls, and the need to adopt the admissions policy of the parent school, which may prevent the satellite from admitting only local Sevenoaks pupils.
To solve these problems, the ideal solution would be for the Council to establish a wholly new grammar school in Sevenoaks, but unfortunately, new LEA funded grammar schools have been banned by law since 1998. We are therefore asking for your help in getting this law repealed, so that we can establish a new grammar school in Sevenoaks, rather than accept the imperfect compromise of a satellite school.
We believe that the repeal of this law would have little impact on the rest of the country because, without a radical change in Government policy, very few, if any, LEAs (apart from Kent) would wish to fund new grammar schools. This was proven to be the case in the decades immediately prior to 1998 when it was legal to establish new grammar schools, but no one did this.
So, in conclusion, we very much hope that the MPs present this evening will look favourably on our request to repeal the 1998 law, so that we can establish a wholly new grammar school in Sevenoaks.
Thank you for listening.
Andrew Shilling & Graham Brady