Don’t celebrate yet – The annexe is not home and dry

Reports in the Sevenoaks Chronicle last week suggested that it is now full-steam ahead for a girls-only annexe to the Tonbridge based Weald of Kent Grammar school. I believe that the full facts should be revealed and that a public consultation must take place. When the details are in the open, I feel that many Sevenoaks parents will doubt whether this expensive annexe is such a good idea after all.

The legal challenge by Comprehensive Future failed because it was unable to obtain the full facts on how the school was to be organised before the deadline elapsed last week, despite requests to Weald of Kent and Kent County Council under Freedom of Information laws. Parents should ask themselves: What could the school be trying to hide?

The group to which I belong, Kent Education Network, believes that the plan bristles with problems. For example, the main cause motivating those arguing for the new annexe – that pupils in Sevenoaks who have passed the Kent Test are forced to travel 10 miles twice a day – would not be addressed by the new scheme. No-one has explained how the current school roll will be distributed between Sevenoaks and Tonbridge if – as the proponents of the scheme insist –the two sites were to be run as one school.

Will the two units be run in parallel? For example, will students attend the nearest site? That would surely require equality in facilities between the sites: two gyms; two computer rooms; two playing fields, and so on. Presumably, teaching staff would commute between them on a regular basis. Such an arrangement would not only be a timetabling nightmare, it would be extremely costly and require extra staff.

Alternatively, would the Weald be split horizontally so that lower year groups attend one site and higher groups the other? While this might ease the staffing problem to some extent, it would not address the main argument cited in favour of the annexe – avoiding the 10 mile commute every day. What’s more, it would make the problem twice as bad since girls currently living in the Tonbridge area with an easy journey would be faced with the ten mile trip in reverse!

One way out of this dilemma might be to base the (mixed) sixth form in Sevenoaks but can it then be argued that this is not a new school under the current legislation? And does it address the original cause? No, because Years 7 to 11 will still be undertaking the two-way daily trek.

Kent Education Network believes that selective entry is not the route to an excellent education and – when Sevenoaks parents were polled in June 2013 – 67 per cent said they preferred a “grammar style” school, one with a traditional ethos but with no selection test for entry.

While some Sevenoaks parents may feel it is unfair that their boys and girls do not have a grammar school in their town, we believe that parents should consider existing opportunities for excellent secondary education in Sevenoaks. Knole Academy has received significant investment and is providing a grammar school stream, while the new Trinity School is an all-ability free school that has great ambitions.

There are already schools in Kent showing the way to a future that avoids the curse of “failure” at the age of eleven. Homewood School in Tenterden as well as Bennett Memorial Diocesan School and St Gregory’s Catholic Comprehensive School in Tunbridge Wells all provide an outstanding educational experience leading to a top university and a successful career.

Rosemary Olivier

Former Head Teacher
St Gegory’s Catholic Comprehensive School
Tunbridge Wells

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