The Christian Free School appears to have been badly misinformed by the Government over the potential to share the Wildernesse site with the grammar school. Although superficially this appears to be a good idea because the land area is certainly big enough to accommodate two schools, there is an obvious financial problem with this idea which is likely to make it impossible.
The problem is that both KCC and the Government have stated that they wish to refurbish and use the existing Wildernesse buildings for their respective schools, which is the much cheaper option, but neither want to spend the money on a new build. (KCC estimate the refurbishment cost to be c.£6m),
Unfortunately, the existing Wildernesse buildings are much too small to accommodate both schools. The buildings would need to be at least twice the current size to accommodate both. (Wildernesse’s capacity was 820 per its last Ofsted report, although it only had 540 pupils although we think that it could have squeezed in up to 1,000 pupils at a stretch. The Christian School’s expected size is c.800, and the grammar school’s would be c.1250 with its two additional forms of entry and larger Sixth Form).
We estimate that a new building for the Christian School would cost c.£25m. (Knole Academy’s new building is budgeted at £18.3m, but that building is not the whole school and so the Christian School’s building would need to be larger, and so more costly).
KCC and Kent’s taxpayers do not have £25m; so the Government would need to come up with the £25m for the site to be shared. However, it is very unlikely that this cash would be forthcoming in our times of austerity, given that the Government has only been prepared to pay for a cheap office block (Ryedale Court) as a temporary home for the Christian School, and given that the Government is currently spending £18m on the Knole Academy and so would presumably be very reluctant to fund another school building in the same town.
So unless the Government can come up with the £25m (which seems extremely unlikely), unfortunately it won’t be possible for the Wildernesse site to be shared.
We understand that KCC are confident that the Government’s legal threat to confiscate the Wildernesse site in the leaked letter was based on an incorrect interpretation of the law, and that the Government do not have the legal powers to compulsorily purchase the site because it will never cease to be in educational use.
In addition, we understand that KCC have the best and most formidable public sector lawyers in the country, the multi-award winning KCC Legal Services, and have successfully defeated the Government before over their misinterpretation of the law. This happened in 2011 when KCC successfully overturned in the High Court ‘s decision to axe the Buildings Schools for the Future project, which then lead to the Knole Academy being awarded £18m by the Government for its new building.
So the Christian School and their Government backers would much better serve the people of Sevenoaks by looking for at an alternative permanent site, rather than threatening the grammar school.