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KCC votes in favour of Sevenoaks grammar

PUBLISHED: 17:00 29 March 2012

Kent County Council

Kent County Council

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A new “satellite” school will be created as an expansion of existing grammar schools

A historic vote into selective school expansion has given the green light for the long-awaited creation of grammar places in Sevenoaks.

County Hall chiefs voted in favour of establishing a new “satellite” school which would be linked to existing grammars in either Tonbridge and Malling or Tunbridge Wells.

It will involve a new four-form entry selective school of around 120 pupils, with two forms for girls and two for boys located in Sevenoaks, which currently has no grammar provision.

The costs of development are likely to be between £13m and £15m.

The move sparks the first major expansion of a grammar in 50 years, after education laws – which forbid the building of new grammars – were changed to allow them to expand on different sites.

Frustrated parents in Sevenoaks jumped at the opportunity and launched a petition, gathering 2,620 signatures and forcing a debate at Kent County Council.

A landslide 66 of the 70 councillors voted in favour, with many expressing concern over the situation in Sevenoaks where grammar school children currently have to make a two hour round trip to schools in Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells.

After the vote, cabinet member for education Cllr Mike Whiting said he wanted to congratulate the campaigners.

“We’re not here to knock wide-ability schools but to support appropriate education,” he said.

“The population rise is the driving factor for me. We need to invest in many school places and it’s right that we invest some of those in selective education.

“Children who are deemed suitable should get a grammar school place.”

Last year there were 2,533 secondary school pupils in Sevenoaks south and 1,151 of those travelled to other districts to go to grammars and 736 to attend non-selective schools.

This year, 100 pupils – mostly from Sevenoaks – who passed the Kent Test failed to get a place at a west Kent grammar.

Pupil numbers are expected to soar by 2018 and in a report to council, KCC officers said there was a strong case for more school places.

Non-selective provision is also being looked into alongside the new grammar provision.

Parent Andrew Shilling, who spearheaded the campaign with his wife Sarah, said a Sevenoaks grammar would ensure all children in the area who pass the Kent Test will receive the school place they deserve.

“Every day, 1,150 Sevenoaks children travel to grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, a round trip of up to 25 miles,” he said.

“Many of these children spend up to two hours commuting each day from a young age.

“This has a negative effect on their learning, on their opportunities for hobbies and sport, on their opportunities to develop friendships, and on the time they spend with their families.”

He added: “The council’s population projections predict that by 2018 there will be 1,100 more children aged 10 and 11 in west Kent.

“This means that 550 extra secondary school places will be needed per academic year by

2018.

“Approximately 35 per cent of west Kent children pass the 11+ test. Consequently, by 2018 around 200 extra grammar school places per academic year will be needed.

“This is too large an increase for the existing west Kent grammar schools to accommodate via expansion at their existing sites.”

Mr Shilling said the new Sevenoaks grammar should operate a catchment area-based admissions policy and not super-selection like the Judd School in Tonbridge and Skinners in Tunbridge Wells.

Although no sites have been proposed for the new “satellite” school, the Wildernesse site has been suggested.

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