One of the main reasons for our campaign for a Sevenoaks grammar school is to improve social mobility in our town.
At present, because Sevenoaks does not have a grammar school despite being within Kent’s selective education system, 1,150 Sevenoaks children travel daily to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells to attend grammar schools, which typically represent a two hour round trip. Furthermore, several factors are conspiring to make these grammar schools increasingly socially exclusive:-
- Firstly, due to high population growth in West Kent, Sevenoaks children are increasingly finding that they can only gain admission to the so-called “super-selective” grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, and that they can no longer gain admission to the ordinary community grammar schools that admit pupils within a defined catchment area. (The catchment areas of the community grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells cover these towns, but no longer cover most of Sevenoaks). This means that most Sevenoaks children are now required to score very highly on the 11 Plus exam to gain admission to a grammar school, and this has encouraged a private tutoring culture to develop in Sevenoaks, which favours middle class children and excludes disadvantaged children who cannot afford tutors.
- Secondly, from September, Kent County Council will no longer fund transport costs to schools outside a child’s home town. Sevenoaks children will therefore need to pay to travel to the Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells grammar schools, which again favours middle class children and excludes disadvantaged children who cannot afford this.
Our solution is therefore to campaign for additional grammar school places to be provided at a central site in Sevenoaks which most local children will be able to walk to, meaning that they will not need to pay for transport. In addition, we are campaigning for these additional grammar school places to be provided by a nearby community grammar school that operates a catchment area based admissions policy, and not super-selection. This means that anyone within the catchment area who passes the 11 plus exam will be admitted, thus greatly reducing the need for private tutors to coach children to achieve high marks, because these high marks will no longer be required for admission. This should go some way to levelling the playing field between middle class children and disadvantaged children.
We are also exploring other ways to level the playing field between middle class children and disadvantaged children, and to encourage greater numbers of disadvantaged children to apply for, and achieve, grammar school places. Ideas that we are examining include grammar school teachers visiting local primary schools to provide special language and science classes to inspire learning in young people. Also, we are considering providing after-school and summer holiday tuition classes to primary school children (which will be free and open to all) to teach them the skills they need to pass the 11 plus exam.
Our over-riding ambition is to create a grammar school in Sevenoaks that is socially inclusive, as this will provide the best possible education for the young people of the town from all backgrounds.