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
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