New grammar school ‘annexe’ proposed in Kent

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.

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Government plans will increase divisions says Kent campaign group.

Plans to force all schools to convert to academies will create an even wider gulf between Kent secondary schools, according to Kent Education Network (KEN).  The new campaign group said this week that – if academy chains are free to cherry pick secondary schools – they would inevitably swallow up grammar schools first, leaving our high schools out in the cold. Grammars would lend prestige to the academy chains and would therefore provide better value to their future business.

KEN’s Head of Research, Dr Michael Collins, said: “The government’s proposals are deeply unpopular with teachers, parents and local authorities. The planned changes are likely to bring even deeper divisions between our children. There is a shortage of academy chains which can only mean successful trusts fighting over popular and successful schools, while troubled schools will be left with any trust willing to take them on.

“The education divide in Kent is already a serious problem: a quarter of children who fail the Kent Test end up in schools classed by Ofsted as ‘requiring improvement’, yet every child who passes the eleven-plus is assured of a good school. The gap can only get wider as ambitious academy trusts refuse to take on Kent’s struggling schools because the trusts themselves will in future be ranked by means of league tables.”

Dr Collins, who is currently conducting research for the University of Kent into selection at the age of 11, added: “In Kent, the situation could prove especially bad:  government proposals include abolishing the requirement to follow the existing admissions code at age sixteen. There seems to be nothing to prevent trusts from setting admissions criteria for children wishing to enter grammar sixth forms from outside schools that differ significantly from the criteria applying to their own pupils.

“Kent children could fail twice: once at eleven; again at 16 – even after they have made significant academic advances in between.”

Kent Education Network does not believe the Kent Test is either fair or accurate in its predictive values.  It is our view therefore that schools must offer opportunities for an excellent education to children who continue to develop beyond the age of eleven. It’s well-known that children labelled as “failures” at 11 are frequently quite capable of thriving in a grammar sixth form: this new law could deny them a place. Already Kent has significantly fewer children achieving three A levels than other authorities – this would only make matters worse.

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Kent County Council refuses to reveal plans for the Sevenoaks school annexe

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.

TWO FOI REQUESTS WERE DENIED :
TWO ARE ONGOING :
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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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Campaign group says Sevenoaks grammar satellite will fail

A newly formed campaign group says that the planned Sevenoaks annexe to the Weald of Kent Grammar School is bound to fail.

Joanne Bartley, speaking for Kent Education Network, says: “The plan for the annexe envisages that the two sites – in Tonbridge and Sevenoaks – will be run as one school.

“Kent Education Network (KEN) believe that this will prove expensive and impractical and will not solve the perceived problem of girls needing to travel almost ten miles a day each way to school.

“Weald of Kent refuses to provide parents and residents with details of how the complicated logistics will work, despite a Freedom of Information request asking for this information. But it is our considered view that the hidden complications of the plan will result in teaching staff being forced to take over an hour travelling between the two sites most days if courses are to be duplicated on both sites.

“It is obvious that huge costs would be incurred in staff travel and that many more staff members would be required for the school to provide a full teaching programme.  The only way to tackle this problem would be for the “school” to be divided horizontally ie. that senior pupils attend one location while juniors are based at the other.

“This would have two effects: such an arrangement could not be described as “one school”; and, further, at least half of the combined school cohorts would need to make the ten mile journey twice a day. This would contradict the intended point of the annexe plan – which is that these journeys should be ended. It would also mean that many children from the Tonbridge area would make these journeys for the first time.

“For all these reasons, we believe that the annexe will fail in its expressed aims.

“If Weald of Kent School were to reveal its plan, parents would then be able to take a view on the benefits or otherwise of the annexe. We believe that the future educational needs of Sevenoaks children can be more than adequately met by the Knole Academy with its grammar stream, together with the newly established Trinity Free School. ”

 

 

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