Because of the secrecy surrounding the plans for the controversial grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks, the Campaign group, Kent Education Network, used a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to ask for details of the plan. But In response, Kent County Council – while admitting that it holds information relating to transport and staffing at the proposed annexe – refused the request on the grounds it would: ‘prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.’
The campaign group’s similar request to the Department for Education has not yet been denied, but DfE asked for an extension to consider “whether this is in the public interest”. Joanne Bartley, Chair of Kent Education Network, said: “It ‘s disappointing that KCC are keeping these plans to themselves. While parents were consulted in principle on this expansion, they want to know that their needs will be met.
We believe that Sevenoaks parents should see the plan in detail and judge whether the annexe will meet their expectations. “To stay within the law, the Weald of Kent grammar school must operate as one school over two sites but, in doing so, it could prove impossible in practice to operate efficiently. So far, we know only that one part of the Sevenoaks site will house a mixed sixth form: a proposition that did not feature in the campaign four years ago.
“Meanwhile, KCC refused our request, saying that they needed: ‘a safe space in order to develop ideas, debate live issues and reach decisions away from external interference and distractions.’
“It’s now four months since the government gave the goahead, but KCC went on to talk about: ‘Challenging discussions about areas set out in the current plans’. This makes one suspect that the legal conditions might make the plan as it stands impossible to implement; that there are serious problems underlying their coyness. For example, occupying sites ten miles apart must involve extensive travel between the two by both staff and pupils, by no means easy or efficient for anyone. This annexe was originally billed as reducing travel for school children, but the legal requirements may actually require more travel for pupils.
“The secrecy also suggests that KCC have no confidence in public support for the plan if it were revealed in full: if the plan was so good, there would surely be no ‘debate’ or ‘distraction.”
“We are pleased that the Department for Education did not deny our request, and expect some kind of answer before March 9th. We believe that the Weald of Kent School must have had some plans agreed to get this far, and for something as simple as bus journeys between buildings, there should be no need keep things secret.”
Kent Education Network suggests that members of the public who would like to see detailed plans made available should write to their MP or County Councillor. Anyone wishing to receive notifications from the Department for Education on the status of the ongoing FOI request can do so by visiting bit.ly/sevenoaksplan and registering on the site.