As well as the absence of grammar school places in the area (Sevenoaks’ claim to be the only Kent town without a grammar school being untrue!), there are three other major factors in favour of the scheme. Firstly, there is a likely site available, as Quinn Estates is developing the old Herne Bay Golf Club, and this is the possible site for the satellite (not much controversy here!). Along with the site comes a major building development, leading to further increase in pressure on grammar (and all school) places.
Secondly, and for Canterbury City Council central to future planning, this would provide a major easing of the intractable problems of traffic flow in Canterbury, exacerbated by the large number of Herne Bay/Whitstable children pouring into and through Canterbury via the Westgate Tower and Sturry Road bottlenecks, to the grammar schools in the south of the city. Not surprisingly, Colin Carmichael, Chief Executive of Canterbury City is reported in the Kentish Gazette as being in favour of the scheme.
Thirdly, there has been much debate in the proposed Sevenoaks scheme over the nature of the school with both possible sponsors being single sex, which could create legal and other problems running a mixed satellite. Issues over admission rules, given the complex nature of oversubscription criteria of neighbouring schools have led to wide speculation about impact. If Barton Court is to be the sponsor, then its mixed grammar school status with straightforward admission rules, looking to set up a satellite which would attract children local to Herne Bay and Whitstable has none of these potential problems.
The Kent County Council School Commissioning plan surprisingly does not consider future grammar school provision at all, except in Sevenoaks. So, whilst it reports no future need for secondary school places in the Canterbury area for the next ten years unless there is housing development (!), it does not consider the specific grammar school issues in East Kent.
Not surprisingly, at what is surely a delicate stage in negotiations, Barton Court is not commenting on the situation. However, David Anderson, headteacher of Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Faversham, is reported in the Gazette as being in favour of the scheme. This is because whilst a few years ago QE recruited in both Whitstable and Herne Bay, he is now turning down children from both areas as his catchment area has now shrunk dramatically due to the popularity of the school. This year he had to turn away children living more than 6.3 miles from the school and can see the merits of a coastal grammar school which would avoid children having to travel into Canterbury. On the other side of the argument is Jane Robinson, Headteacher of Simon Langton Girls, who considers there is already a surplus of grammar school places in East Kent. She is correct in that there are surpluses in Ramsgate and Folkestone, although all the other 10 grammar schools starting from a line through Faversham and Ashford and heading east are all oversubscribed except for a few places at Norton Knatchbull (which put on 30 extra places this year) and Dover Boys that existed before appeals took place.
Barton Court is not the only local grammar school to have been consulted. In the Ramsgate Federation of Grammar Schools Development plan for 2011-12, it states: "Looking to longer-term expansion of provision to meet demand for selective school places in East Kent, we will also cooperate with local MPs to develop a feasibility study for a Federation grammar school „satellite‟ in Herne Bay". Of course, the fairly hasty departure of the previous headteacher may have brought this proposal to a halt, and gives a lie to the view that no other schools have been consulted.
There is a further difficulty in current arrangements for Herne Bay and Whitstable children. Simon Langton Boys Grammar in Canterbury has ambitions ot be a super selective school, and already gives priority to children scoring an aggregate of 385 or higher in the Kent Test, which knocks out boys who have passed the Kent Test with a lower score, but live too far away. This hasn't yet particularly impacted except to reduce further grammar school opportunities for such boys living towards the coast. Meanwhile, Barton Court's popularity, with 28 qualified first choices turned away, has never been higher. I know that a high proportion of those rejected came from Herne Bay and Whitstable.
The problem of no grammar school places for children in the area has existed for many years, and the then logical solution of moving Barton Court to the coast was put forward exactly a quarter of a century ago! In that year, John Mathews was appointed headteacher of Barton Court Grammar School, his job description specifying that he was to prepare the school for a move to the coast at Herne Bay three years hence. Much work was carried out working directly with Kent County Council and six possible sites were identified. However, as with so many education schemes, finance and politics got in the way and the scheme was dropped. As a result Mr Mathews moved on to Chatham House Grammar in Ramsgate, taking the school to an OFSTED Outstanding rating shortly before he retired. At this time the school was federated with Clarendon House Grammar, but under his short-stay successor the Federation’s popularity has declined along with the population, falling from 8 to 6 forms of entry with children from Herne Bay and Whitstable no longer favouring the long rail journey along the north Kent coast (half as far again as the distance from Sevenoaks to TW!). This has of course removed two forms from the surplus of places still almost entirely seen in Ramsgate and Folkestone.