A plan for the first new grammar school since the 1960s has been approved
Conservative-controlled Kent Council in the UK on Friday gave an outlined approval to create a new school for around 120 pupils – the first move of its kind in 50 years.The authorities are proposing
to take advantage of new Government powers that allow existing grammar schools to expand to accommodate additional pupils.
Under plans approved by councillors, it will create a “satellite” campus in Sevenoaks linked to at least two other grammar schools around 10 miles away.
It will allow the council to get around a ban on the opening of specialized new grammar school which was introduced by Labour in 1998.
The National Grammar Schools Association welcomed the news, saying it could lead to the mass expansion of academic selection and ease the pressure on schools in other areas.
Nationally, it is believed that as many as half of pupils who pass the 11-plus - the traditional grammar school entrance exam - fail to get in because of the sheer competition for places.
Graham Brady, the Conservative MP for Altrincham and Sale West, who is a major supporter of grammar schools, said: \"The overwhelming vote by the county council reflects the huge popularity of selection education in areas such as Kent. I think the move to expand a grammar school to a new campus in Sevenoaks is a small but important step in the right direction and I hope that other areas will take advantage in the same way.”
Jim Wedgbury, a Kent councillor, said “We can make history and start the roll-out of grammar schools across the nation.”
Margaret Tulloch, from the Comprehensive Future group, which opposes the expansion of academic selection at the age of 11, admitted the Kent decision could open the floodgates.
She said: \"We don\'t want the 11-plus. We don\'t want children facing this barrier. This test at 11, rejects most children, especially the poor and children with special needs.
\"I\'m very concerned about what is happening. This is the thin end of the wedge.\"
Only 164 grammar schools remain in England following the expansion of comprehensive education in the 60s and 70s.
They are now concentrated in a small number of counties such as Kent, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire and parts of cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester.
Kent currently has more grammar schools than any other English county.
But Sevenoaks - in the west of the county - has no academically selective schools and is served by just one comprehensive. Every day, around 1,150 pupils make a round trip of around 25 miles to attend grammars in other towns.
Some 2,620 local people signed a petition calling for the creation of new provisional growth in Sevenoaks. They urged the council to take advantage of Coalition reforms that allow any existing school – including grammars to grow in areas with the highest demand.
In west Kent, all grammars are single-sex, so the authorities are proposing creating two separate schools for boys and girls on the same site – taking around 60 pupils each a year. They would eventually cater for around 840 pupils.
At a meeting, Kent councillors backed the plans, with 66 voting in favour and only three against.
Addressing the debate, Andrew Shilling, who launched the petition, said: \"The situation is truly shocking. The children of Sevenoaks have suffered this injustice too long. There should be a local solution to a local problem.\"
Speaking afterwards, Mike Whitting, cabinet member for education, said: This is a very important issue, not just for the people of Sevenoaks but for the people of Kent and the rest of the country.
\"We support fully appropriate education for the people of Kent, but I am looking forward to moving down the road for selective education for Kent.
\"The population rise is the driving factor, as we have a growing population in West Kent. We are going to have to invest in many more schools. It is also correct and proper that we invest a proportion in selective education.”
Reacting to the vote, Jennie Varley, vice-chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, said: \"This is excellent news. It\'s what the parents in Sevenoaks wanted and they put together a great campaign. This may now encourage other grammar schools to do the same.\"
A Department for Education spokesman said: \"The over-riding objective of this Government\'s reforms is to increase the supply of good school places so parents have real choice.
\"That includes making it easier for good schools - grammar or otherwise - to increase their published admission number.
\"Legislation prohibits the establishment of new grammar schools, and ministers have been clear that that will not change. Any school can already expand by opening a satellite site. This has been the case since 1944.
\"It is up to Kent County Council, as the decision-maker for established schools in Kent, to decide how it fulfills its legal duty to provide sufficient school places in county.\"