A second grammar school ‘annexe’ is now under consideration in Kent. Barton Court grammar school in Canterbury is in discussions with Kent County Council to build an annexe in Herne Bay seven miles away.
Nicky Morgan’s decision that the Tonbridge-based Weald of Kent school could expand to a site in Sevenoaks has set a precedent that means many councils are now considering grammar school satellites. Conservative councillors in Maidenhead, Basildon and Birmingham have all recently proposed annexe expansions to local grammar schools.
Barton Court last year received £11 million for school improvements that will offer 30 additional places a year, while the annexe in Herne Bay will house 500 selective pupils. MP Sir Roger Gale claims to have pressed for grammar school provision in the town for thirty years, but the decision in Sevenoaks now makes his plan feasible. The idea is being supported by a local property developer on a site originally earmarked for a primary school.
Joanne Bartley from campaign group Kent Education Network said: “We feel Kent County council has its priorities wrong. More than 15,000 Kent children are in non-selective schools rated as in need of improvement or inadequate; nearly 5,000 of those children are classed as disadvantaged. We do not believe that expanding a grammar school should be our council’s priority right now.
Another selective school does not help these children in any way.
“We are also pressing for transparency with this plan. Kent County Council have refused our requests for information about the proposed satellite school in Sevenoaks. The Weald of Kent outline plan was approved last October, but we have yet to hear any details of how the school will operate over two sites. Our Freedom of Information requests have been denied and it is impossible to mount a legal challenge without evidence of how this school will operate. The Weald of Kent effectively dodged a judicial review by avoiding transparency. It’s our hope that KCC and the Department for Education will be more open with this proposal. If the plan is such a good one there should be no need to conceal it from the public.
“Faced with the ban on new grammars, satellites to existing grammar schools are increasingly popular with conservative councillors and some parents, but no one seems to be considering the wider implications for school communities. It should not be a local councillor’s role to change school admissions criteria in a town, however – in effect – these annexes will bring back two tier education by the back door, with no consideration of the effects.
“We are asking that Barton Court considers opening a mixed ability school in Herne Bay. Outstanding schools should be capable of educating pupils of all abilities, and there is a clear lack of good all-ability schools in the area. Herne Bay’s only non-selective school is over subscribed, a grammar school annexe seems like a political choice not a plan to suit local parents.
“We feel that many councils are attempting to run local schools on political lines, in order to appeal to a minority of voters – with no thought for the quality of education afforded to the majority of children. Why should anyone pay council tax to build a school that most children can never enter? As a mother, I do not want my son to face the Kent Test, but I fear that it’s the only way to be assured of a good school in Kent.
“Grammar schools are mainly supported by politicians and parents who feel their child will personally benefit – often after private tuition. But it’s virtually impossible for parents who think their child will fail the Kent Test to stand up and say they don’t like grammar schools. There is no genuine debate about grammar schools because parents who dislike two tier education cannot challenge the system without it being suggested that their own child might lack intelligence. A silent majority dislike grammar schools while a few noisy politicians and parents hold sway: there is no good reason to create schools that can only divide communities with no proven educational benefit.
“We also believe that Kent County Council should manage their secondary moderns as a separate body because, for many, they are the only schools available. If KCC reviewed the schools this way, they would discover that the subjects offered in many schools are limited, teacher turnover is high, and a third of children are taught in schools classed as ‘requires improvement’. Kent’s GCSE results for disadvantaged children are on a par with those of Bradford, an area criticised by Ofsted for the poverty of its school provision.
“Kent politicians are planning new grammar schools, while turning a blind eye to the effects of selective education, while local authorities seeking grammar schools in their towns are naively assuming that this would have no impact on existing schools.”
The grammar school proposal in Herne Bay would increase the number of selective places in Kent to 33,855 out of a total 99,043 state school places. Kent has 32 grammar schools and 67 secondary modern schools. Of the grammars, 23 are rated ‘outstanding’ while just four non-selective schools receive the highest Ofsted rating. It is the belief of Kent Education Network that children who fail the Kent Test have limited opportunity where secondary education is concerned; better schools are available to children who pass a test, which is not only unfair, it is an enormous waste of talent to the county.