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Friday, 13 December 2013 00:00

Sevenoaks Grammar Satellite rejected

 This article includes the four key documents relating to this devastating decision for Kent County Council and parents of children in Sevenoaks and district looking forward to a new grammar school (annex) in their locality both from 2015 and afterwards as pressure increases further on grammar school places. The documents are: (1) A press release from the Department for Education announcing the decision to reject the competing applications from Weald of Kent Grammar School and Invicta Grammar to set up a co-educational grammar school annex in Sevenoaks; (2) A letter to Invicta Grammar School in Maidstone, rejecting their application and giving reasons; (3)   A letter to Weald of Kent Grammar School in Tonbridge, rejecting their application and giving reasons; (4) A press release from Kent County Council's Cabinet Member for Education, commenting on the decision. Following a previous exchange of letters between the Secretary of State for Education and Mr Michael Fallon, MP for Sevenoaks, I wrote a previous article anticipating this was the likeliest outcome. You will find this below. This also provides links to other articles describing the process over the past two years. 

The DfE's decision is based on their reading that both proposals would be illegal to implement. The key one centres on the requirement that any annex should adopt the same admission criteria of the host school, primarily the gender issues. Weald proposed to keep its home school as girls only, with a co-educational annex. Invicta sought to overcome this by setting up a further boys annex in Maidstone, but the annex would still not reflect the gender make-up of the existing school. There would need to be a single Published Admission Number to cover both home school and annex, and parents would not be able to specify a preferred site as proposed at Invicta. There are organisational issues, as explained in the individual letters below.

Contrasting the two, it is clear that the Weald  proposal came nearest the requirements of the relevant legislation. In particular .....

the Invicta letter criticises its failure to demonstrate that Sevenoaks children to the school. "We would expect expansions to respond to demand from their existing community".  Further "Various assertions clearly indicate that the reason for your proposal is a desire to establish a new school".  Setting up a new grammar school is specifically outlawed by legislation. For Weald the conclusion is that "We have therefore come to the conclusion that while your proposal contains elements of integration, these are outweighed by other factors, particularly the proposed admission arrangements". This is far less negative than the Invicta proposal which appears to have reached the buffers. 

What next?

My initial view on the future is that given these issues, it now only stands a chance of working if either (a) the regulations are changed the accommodate the Weald proposal - unlikely before any general election because of Coalition politics, or (b) the project goes back to its original concept of two single sex non super selective West Kent grammar schools working together. Whilst there is still no guarantee that such a proposal would find approval, surely it would come much closer to the criteria for approval which are now becoming much clearer as a result of this correspondence. Would Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys, one of the few county run grammar schools left, come in with Weald and would Weald be willing to run a joint venture. Both schools would need to compromise greatly: common oversubscription criteria; and perhaps even more difficult, a single integrated management structure between the three sites. Change of regulations certainly looks the easier of two very difficult routes.

What if no annex?

So what if there is no annex. Currently there are 16 forms of entry for girls and 14 for boys, with around one form of entry for girls and two of boys form out of Kent taking up places in these schools each year, so there is a particular problem with boys' grammar school places in West Kent. Tonbridge Grammar admitted an additional 23 girls for 2013 entry to ease the pressures, and has just announced it will continue this expansion for 2014 entry, although so far without commitment for future years. Judd added 30 boys places last year and is going to again this year - I suspect this may lead to a permanent expansion, but no clues so far. Skinners added 35 in 2013, but no signs of a repeat this year, and with its constrained site this may not be possible again. Meanwhile, the number of children in each year group continues to grow steadily and so will pressure, ironically primarily for boys' places. Because of the current locations of West Kent grammar schools, it is very difficult to project future demand, and the Kent Commissioning Plan, which attempts to forecast and plan for expansion,  is surprisingly vague on the detail apart from recording a need for the 6 form annex.

Conclusions

Three conclusions: (a)There is already a serious shortage of permanent places for boys; (b) some parents of children in Sevenoaks want a grammar school in the town rather than seeing their children travel to Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells - although the many seeking a super-selective school will still go for these as their first priority; (c) this is a serious political embarrassment for KCC  and potentially for the Conservative side of the Coalition. 

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Press Release from the Department of Education

The Department for Education today published letters responding to proposals submitted by two grammar schools for expansion.

 A DfE spokesman said:

"Neither of the proposals which were put to us complied with the law. We will of course look closely at any further applications to expand schools into Sevenoaks. The two schools whose applications were unsuccessful are free to revise their plans and re-submit them." 

 Notes to editors: 

  •       There are 164 designated grammar schools, operating across 36 Local Authorities.

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Letter to Invicta Grammar School

Dear Dr Limbert,

Thank you for your proposal submitted to the Secretary of State on 22 July 2013 for the expansion of Invicta Grammar School in Sevenoaks, Kent.
The Government is committed to ensuring good schools, including good grammar schools, can expand. However, current legislation prohibits the establishment of new selective schools.
On 18 September 2013, following an initial consideration of your proposal, we wrote to you explaining that legislation contained within section 99 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, section 39 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and sections 1(3) and 1(4) of the Academies Act 2010, prohibits the creation of new selective schools. We emphasised that if your proposal is, in effect, one for the establishment of a new selective school, it cannot be approved due to the statutory prohibition.
In our letter to you we set out the relevant criteria that we would take into consideration when making this decision. The factors we considered fell under four broad headings:
1) The reasons for the expansion
2) Admission and curriculum arrangements
3) Governance and administration
4) Physical characteristics of the school
We have now fully assessed your proposal, taking into account your original submissions together with the further information you submitted on 30 September 2013.
Our assessment is that your proposal does not represent an expansion and therefore cannot be approved. Further details of our assessment are set out in Annex A to this letter. However, the key reasons we could not approve the proposal are:
i) The basis of the proposal as detailed in your business case is to address the absence of a grammar school within the Sevenoaks area. Various assertions clearly indicate that the reason for your proposal is a desire to establish a new school.
ii) We have not received any evidence that demonstrates Sevenoaks children currently travel to Invicta Grammar School. We would expect expansions to respond to demand from their existing community.
iii) The proposal suggests that the existing site remains a single sex girls school with an additional boys annex in Maidstone, but with the expansion site in Sevenoaks being co-educational. The admissions arrangements under an expansion would need to reflect the gender make-up of the existing school for the relevant age groups.
iv) The proposal does not demonstrate a single Published Admission Number (PAN) covering both sites – i.e. the number of students that will normally be admitted to the school at year 7. The proposed PAN arrangements are fragmented, with parents identifying a preferred site and different gender make-ups at the different sites. The proposed admission arrangements would also not be compliant with the Admissions Code.
v) There is no evidence provided to suggest day to day movement of staff and students between the sites, and this would be challenging given the site is approximately 19 miles from the existing school. A deputy head at each site responsible for the day to day management of the site, the duplication of curriculum provision at each site and no evidence that the school day at the Sevenoaks site would be the same as that at Maidstone all indicate a lack of full integration.
We have therefore come to the view that, while your proposal includes some minor elements of integration, these are significantly outweighed by other factors.
I appreciate you will be disappointed in this decision. Our decision is reached because of the statutory prohibition and not because your proposal is without merit.
We remain open to considering further proposals in the future. However, I should make clear that – given the statutory restrictions – any submitted proposal must represent an expansion rather than a separate school. We will need to assess any future proposals against the factors we have highlighted.
If you have any questions about the content of this letter please do not hesitate in contacting Michael Collins, Senior Adviser for Kent.

Annex A
KEY POINTS IN THE ASSESSMENT
1. Reason for expansion
• The basis of the proposal as detailed in your business case is to address the absence of a grammar school within the Sevenoaks area. Various assertions clearly indicate that the reason for your proposal is a desire to establish a new school, and we do not consider that the further information you provided undermines this long held intention which is central to your proposal.
• While you have cited evidence that children travel from the Tonbridge, Malling and Sevenoaks area, we have not received any evidence that specifically demonstrates Sevenoaks children currently travel to Invicta Grammar School. We cannot conclude that the school serves the community in which it plans to expand.
2. Admission arrangements
• There are contradictory proposals on whether there will be a single Published Admission Number (PAN). Your response of 30 September confirms that parents would identify a preferred ‘campus’ on application with some campuses remaining single sex but introducing a co-educational campus at Sevenoaks. The admissions arrangements under an expansion would need to reflect the gender make-up of the existing school for the relevant age group. The admission arrangements as detailed would also not be compliant with the Admissions Code.
• The proposed admission arrangements do not explain how a co-educational annexe could be integrated into the current admission arrangements and the impact this would have on all campuses in light of the trust’s obligations under the Equality Act 2010. I note your intention to review the accommodation at the Maidstone campus for future years to reflect need and equality legislation. However, current arrangements do not give confidence that this is an integrated proposal and the evidence here suggests that this is a separate school.
3. Integration of management, facilities and resources
• There are some factors which demonstrate a degree of integration between the sites e.g. one headteacher, sharing of facilities across the sites for library, arts and sports provision, and single policies across each site. Although there are plans to place teachers and students at different campuses at different times, it is clear that this will not be on a day to day basis which would indicate a lack of integration.
• There is no evidence provided to suggest day to day movement of staff and students between the sites. A deputy head at each site responsible for the day to day management of the site, the duplication of curriculum provision at each site and no evidence that the school day at the Sevenoaks site would be the same as that at Maidstone indicates a lack of integration.

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 Letter to Weald of Kent Grammar School

Dear Mrs Johnson,
Thank you for your proposal submitted to the Secretary of State on 26 July 2013 for the expansion of Weald of Kent Grammar School in Sevenoaks, Kent.
The Government is committed to ensuring good schools, including good grammar schools, can expand. However, current legislation prohibits the establishment of new selective schools.
On 18 September 2013, following an initial consideration of your proposal, we wrote to you explaining that legislation contained within section 99 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, section 39 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and sections 1(3) and 1(4) of the Academies Act 2010, prohibits the creation of new selective schools. We emphasised that if your proposal is, in effect, one for the establishment of a new selective school, it cannot be approved due to the statutory prohibition.
In our letter to you we set out the relevant criteria that we would take into consideration when making this decision. The factors we considered fell under four broad headings:
1. The reasons for the expansion
2. Admission and curriculum arrangements
3. Governance and administration
4. Physical characteristics
We have now fully assessed your proposal, taking into account your original submissions, together with the further information you submitted on 23 September 2013.
Our assessment is that your proposal does not represent an expansion and therefore cannot be approved. Further details of our assessment are set out in Annex A to this letter. However, the key reasons we could not approve the proposal are:
i) The proposal sets out that the existing site remains single sex and the expansion site would be co-educational. The admissions arrangements under an expansion would need to reflect the gender make-up of the existing school for the relevant age group.
2
ii) The proposal required two separate Published Admission Numbers (PANs) – i.e. the number of students that will normally be admitted to the school at year 7. The proposal is for separate PANs at each site, with parents identifying a site preference when they apply for a place. This indicates a separate school. The admission arrangements proposed would also not be compliant with the Admissions Code.
iii) The proposal does not fully demonstrate integration on staffing arrangements or curriculum. Cross-site provision predominantly focuses on extra curricular activity.
iv) We note that separate deputy and assistant heads will have day to day responsibility for each site. The level of detail provided on cross site responsibility does not give confidence that management structures are fully integrated.
We have therefore come to the view that, while your proposal contains elements of integration, these are outweighed by other factors, particularly the proposed admission arrangements.
I appreciate you will be disappointed in this decision. Our decision is reached because of the statutory prohibition and not because your proposal is without merit.
We remain open to considering further proposals in the future. However, I should make clear that – given the statutory restrictions – any submitted proposal must represent an expansion. We will need to assess any future proposals against the factors we have highlighted.
If you have any questions about the content of this letter please do not hesitate in contacting Michael Collins, Senior Adviser for Kent.

 Annex A

KEY POINTS IN THE ASSESSMENT
1. Reason for expansion
• The proposal is clear that due to increased demand the trust needs to consider a permanent expansion.
• The Sevenoaks site identified by Kent County Council would support the school to expand its provision to serve its existing community. The proportion of students on roll currently travelling from Sevenoaks can be regarded as a factor in favour of the proposal being an expansion of the school within its current catchment area.
2. Admission arrangements
• There would be no single Published Admission Number (PAN). The proposal is for separate PANs at each site, with parents identifying a site preference when they apply for a place. This is not compliant with the Admissions Code.
• The proposal details that the existing site remains single sex and the expansion site would be co-educational. The admissions arrangements under an expansion would need to reflect the gender make-up of the existing school for the relevant age group. Effectively, the proposal is that the school is both single sex and co-educational for the same age group. The school cannot be both. This also creates potential problems under the Equality Act 2010 and is not compliant with the Admissions Code
• The proposal states that governors will consider their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 before deciding upon this matter. The proposal does not provide detail on how gender criteria would be applied to the annexe or the existing site nor does it provide detail on how the school would expect to arrange admission to ensure 3FE boys and 3FE girls at the annexe.
3. Integration of management, facilities and resources
• Several aspects of the proposal on elements of this factor support the case for an expansion – governance arrangements do not need to be changed; there would be a single headteacher; and the house structure would be operated irrespective of site. Specialist staff would teach across both sites and specialist facilities would be available for students irrespective of site.
• However, there is some degree of contradictory evidence that suggests the pooling of resources may be limited in light of the preferred cost option 3, where each site has its own staff, but with some planned shared activities and on-going flexibility. The cross site focus appears to be on extra-curricular activities rather than day-to-day education provision.
• Deputy and assistant heads will have day to day responsibility for one site with cross-site strategic leads. The level of detail provided on cross site responsibility does not give confidence that management structures are fully integrated.

 

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Press Statement from Kent County Council

 Response to ‘no’ from Gove/DfE on Sevenoaks annex

 Roger Gough, KCC Cabinet member for education and health reform, said: “This decision from the secretary of state is a setback for the council and the people of Kent, who have put their faith in, and strong vocal support behind, a legitimate and democratic process to campaign for selective education in Sevenoaks.

“My personal perspective has always been that such a strong movement of local democracy, through an effective petition and purposeful dialogue with parents, deserved to win support at a national level.

 “The council took specialist legal advice on this matter and remain convinced that an annex of an already established grammar school is the right way to respond to this issue.

 “We will be examining carefully the points raised by the Secretary of State in making his decision, and discussing them with the two schools concerned and looking at what next steps we might take, in the light of his comments.

 “While this knockback is particularly disappointing, I will look at what KCC can do to continue arguing this case. As the secondary aged population starts to expand from 2015, more places will be required. And while this is a challenge across West Kent, it is something that particularly affects pupils and families in and around Sevenoaks.

“At the same time, the council will investigate – with individual school partners – how to meet the need for a significant increase in capacity to respond to expected demand in the next few years.”

 

 

Last modified on Friday, 05 December 2014 23:13

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