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Friday, 28 March 2014 00:00

Sevenoaks Annex: Another path blocked

In a further set-back to the proposal to set up a mixed grammar school annex in Sevenoaks,  Governors of Weald Of Kent Grammar School have decided after consulting parents  “that the case for Weald of Kent to become co-educational at the Tonbridge site has not been established and, therefore, conclude that it is difficult to go ahead with the expansion into Sevenoaks if this is a requirement”. There is a copy of the letter text at the foot of this article. You will find links to my previous articles here.....

Whilst I considered this proposal was a sensible way forward to break the impasse, the parental objection to having the school their daughters attend become co-educational, even if gradual, appears to have been very strong, even if numbers have not been provided. After all, would anyone expect them to vote for a change to the current outstanding school provision for their daughters? Did the Governing Body not take this predictable response into account before starting down this path? The proposal was for the benefit of grammar school ability children in Sevenoaks and district generally, although my own view remains that it would make little difference to those girls currently going through Weald. 

The one factual statement I would take issue with is that “Amongst the objections was the particular concern that no additional places for girls would result from the change”.  There would be 180 additional places not allocated according to gender, with no immediate pressure to fill all of these, so there would be ample additional places to take all local qualified boys and girls for the next few years, I would guess at least a decade, although the majority would probably be boys because of current pressures.

So where does this leave Kent County Council who have put their political weight behind a  Sevenoaks Annexe? The letter certainly contains its own teases suggesting, as I would anticipate, that other ways forward with Weald as a sponsor are now being considered. The “if this is a requirement” and the final paragraph certainly indicate the door is not yet closed, although it looks likely as far as changes to the current Weald of Kent arrangements at Tonbridge are concerned. As far as I can see, progress here is going to require a policy change at the Department for Education who will see further lobbying from KCC and its Kent Conservative MPs. The problem is that time is running out before next year’s May General Election, which could change the whole political landscape.

Meanwhile, the planning application for the Wildernesse site to house the grammar annex and the Trinity Free School has been opposed by  Sevenoaks Council on the grounds that “The district is concerned that the proposed schools, with a combined capacity of more than 2,000 pupils, would exceed any identified need.” The council is now concerned that the development would lead to an “in-migration” of pupils from outside Sevenoaks looking to take advantage of the surplus places. Presumably they are happy with the current “out –migration” of Sevenoaks children as the town does not have appropriate schools for them now. 

Where this leaves the Trinity Free School, looking forward to moving into new buildings on the Wildernesse site, is anyone's guess.

Proposal to Develop a Weald of Kent Grammar School Trust Annexe in Sevenoaks, Kent

Dear Parents/Guardians,

We are very grateful to all of you who returned the survey concerning the need for Weald of Kent to become co-educational in order to submit a revised proposal to develop an annexe in Sevenoaks. At the Governors' Meeting on 25 March 2014, the outcome of the consultation was discussed along with other relevant issues.

Whilst Governors continue to recognise the need to provide more Grammar School places in the area to meet a growing demand and to offer students in Sevenoaks a more local facility, they equally wish to reflect the views of our current parents and staff. In summary, the data collected showed that only a minority of parents were in favour of Weald of Kent becoming co-educational and that, of those who voted yes, one fifth expressed reservations. Amongst the objections was the particular concern that no additional places for girls would result from the change. Governors consider that the case for Weald of Kent to become co­educational at the Tonbridge site has not been established and, therefore, conclude that it will be difficult to go ahead with the expansion into Sevenoaks if this is a requirement.

The School will be advising the Educational Funding Agency and Kent County Council of this decision. However, Governors would nonetheless welcome the opportunity to consider further suggestions about how they might expand into Sevenoaks given that Weald of Kent is the main provider of Grammar School places to Sevenoaks students.

Thank you again for taking the time to give us your views.

Yours sincerely  David Bower, Chairman of Governors


Last modified on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 21:56

2 comments

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 08 April 2014 18:22 posted by Sevenoaks Parent

    Forget academies, Kent is fighting for its selective grammar schools, which are really important to the education system of the county. News on the Sevenoaks Grammar School website says: For the first time the shortfall in grammar school places for Sevenoaks students has exceeded 120, highlighting the urgent need for a new grammar school annexe in the town. Figures released this month show that over 510 boys were eligible for the 420* boys’ places available in West Kent grammar schools for 2014 entry, creating a shortfall of over 90 places for West Kent boys. However, for this year only, 60 of this shortfall has been filled by the addition of two temporary forms by the Judd and Skinners schools. Nevertheless, more than 30 West Kent boys who passed the 11 plus test, mainly from Sevenoaks and villages to the north and west, remain without 2014 West Kent grammar school places. The figures also show that over 500 girls were eligible for the 465** girls’ places available in West Kent grammar schools for 2014 entry, creating a shortfall of over 35 places for West Kent girls. However, for this year only, this shortfall has been filled by the addition of a temporary form by Tonbridge Grammar School. The underlying position, once the temporary forms are stripped out, therefore remains clear – an ongoing annual shortfall of 120 West Kent grammar school places, with this shortfall increasing over time as the population grows. School Census Figures The 120 shortfall in grammar places was confirmed by Weald of Kent Grammar School, the school bidding to establish the Sevenoaks grammar annexe, in a consultation letter sent to parents this month:- “Data provided by KCC was derived from the most recent School Census…KCC concludes that there will be insufficient year 7 capacity in the areas of Sevenoaks South, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. The shortfall is currently about four forms of entry (120 students), but KCC forecasts that it will increase to eight forms of entry (240 students) by 2020.” Indeed KCC’s published population forecasts, which are based on existing primary school rolls, show that the number of 11 year olds in Sevenoaks will increase by 30% over the next six years. KCC’s long term forecasts also indicate that this upwards trend will continue into the next decade as significant housing developments in the Sevenoaks area reach completion. Even High Scorers Will Miss Out Unless the Sevenoaks grammar annexe is established, Sevenoaks children who pass the 11 plus will be denied places at West Kent grammar schools because they live outside of the ever shrinking catchment areas. Indeed, in the absence of the annexe, even Sevenoaks children who score close to full marks on the 11 plus will not be offered West Kent grammar school places. This was demonstrated this month when even Sevenoaks boys who scored as high as 96%*** of the full mark were not offered West Kent grammar school places, leaving them and their parents distraught. These boys think they have failed, but this is not true – they only missed out on a grammar school place because they have the misfortune to live in the only major Kent town without a grammar school. Roger Gough, KCC’s Education Chief, therefore welcomed Weald of Kent’s recent decision to consult parents on establishing the much needed Sevenoaks annexe. He said:- “This is a very welcome development in the efforts to tackle the shortage of selective places in West Kent, and the anomaly of the lack of Sevenoaks provision.” Notes *The published admissions numbers for the three West Kent boys’ grammar schools, Tunbridge Wells Boys, Judd and Skinners, are 180, 125 and 115 – a total of 420. **The published admissions numbers for the three West Kent girls’ grammar schools, Tunbridge Wells Girls, Tonbridge and Weald Of Kent, are 140, 150 and 175 – a total of 465. ***In the 11 plus test for 2014 entry, the full marks score was 423. Boys from north Sevenoaks who scored 406 or less were not offered places at the local super-selective grammar schools Judd and Skinners, and were also outside of the catchment area of the local non-super selective grammar school Tunbridge Wells Boys. These Sevenoaks boys were therefore not offered places at West Kent grammar schools, leaving them and their parents distraught. [406/423 = 96%]
    PETER I agree with the principle behind this argument, it is just a pity that the Sevenoaks Campaign Group have once again bent the figures to support their case.

  • Comment Link Friday, 04 April 2014 14:15 posted by Neil Jones

    I think the point about no increased places for girls is this:

    Both the original school and the annexe would have to have the same admissions policy. Approx. 360 places per year across the two sites - assuming a 50/50 split between boys and girls leaves the girls intake back where we started.PETER I understand where you are coming from, but at present there is nowhere near the need for another 180 places although there will be in time. Yes there would be more boys than girls taking up the additional places, but the number of girls would also rise, with numbers being found selective through Headteacher Assessment or Appeal rising to levels elsewhere in Kent, and girls from further out, in Kent or across the county boundary being offered places, rather than being excluded as is starting to happen.

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