Weald of Kent Grammar School in Tonbridge, which admits girls up to GCSE level and is then mixed in the Sixth Form, is now attempting a third attempt with KCC support to open up the proposed grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks. The proposal is now out for consultation with parents.
The proposal shows a change of direction from previous attempts, in that the school is now looking at a three form entry girls’ only annexe up to GCSE level and then mixed in the sixth form, opening in 2016.
Building Plans for the annexe have now been approved, builders have been appointed, but at present there is no approved scheme and so building on the site is in abeyance.
My own view is that Weald Of Kent parents may well support this scheme for, as distinct from the previous proposal, there appears no disadvantage for current students and positive advantages for future students living towards Sevenoaks. There appear to be none of the previous problems with legality, and although the school is likely to make minor changes to its oversubscription criteria, there would be ample space for all qualified applicants for many years.
I have written a number of previous articles on the proposed annexe, which you can follow back from here, or else by searching for ‘Sevenoaks’ or ‘annexe’ in the search facility of this website ........
The first serious proposal for an annexe came from Invicta Grammar School in Maidstone, which fell for two main reasons. Firstly the two sites were too far away for them to operate a single set of admission rules if the joint school was oversubscribed. Which site would be regarded as the one from which to measure distance if this was the criterion and, whichever was chosen the other one was too far away. Secondly and more importantly, the admission rules would need to specify the gender of the students, and single sex Invicta for girls could not therefore operate in conjunction with a mixed annexe. The Department for Education therefore ruled it as an unlawful proposal. This proposal had come forward after two Maidstone grammar schools had considered a joint plan, but pulled out because of the legal obstacles.
Weald of Kent subsequently set up a competing proposal, which was also rejected on the gender issue.
Weald of Kent then came back with a second proposal to turn itself into a co-educational school, so that it aligned itself with the annexe, but a consultation with parents at the school strongly opposed this and so it was abandoned.
The latest proposal
This would effectively see the school become a split site girls’ grammar school, with six classes based at Tonbridge and an additional number, presumably to match demand, but formally three, based in the six form entry new premises in Sevenoaks. Girls would apply to the school itself, not the individual site and would likely be allocated according to ease of travel to each, although I suspect the school would build in flexibility to change according to personal circumstances.
Clearly, with the annexe occupying brand new premises designed for six forms of entry, there would be no problem with lack of space or facilities, so the two sites could operate independently, or as independently as felt beneficial, probably with staff primarily dedicated to each site separately.
All very well so far, and clearly advantageous to the large number of girls living nearer to Sevenoaks than Tonbridge, whilst not detracting for the remainder. What I suspect would happen is that much of the inevitable space left after Kent girls have taken up places would be mopped up by out of county applicants from East Sussex and Surrey.
My problem is that this proposal does nothing to resolve the increasing pressure in West Kent for grammar school places for boys, exacerbated by the two boys’ super-selective schools taking in 55 out of county boys last year and a similar number year on year. Forecasts are that the number of selective children will grow annually, and for the past three years, sufficient spaces have only just been found for all qualified boys, with a number taking up places in the grammar stream at Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, others baling out to go to private schools
I presume that KCC is hoping that a boys’ grammar school will come alongside Weald sometime in the future (almost inevitably Tunbridge Wells Boys’ – although they are clearly refusing to play ball at present), or that legislation will change either to allow the annexe to become mixed, or else to become a new free-standing mixed grammar school. If not, whilst there would clearly be sufficient spaces for girls for some years to come, more grammar qualified boys will inevitably be turned away from all local grammar schools within a few years. Whilst KCC is committed to grammar school education taking place on the site they cannot be completely happy with the way the proposal is working out at present, given that it does not resolve the difficulties for boys in the future.