Whilst I don't normally comment on national issues, the following excerpt, caught on camera from a Civil Servant who accidentally showed it whilst carrying papers on the steps of Downing Street, has important ramifications for Kent. It has been published on the website Huffington Papers. The paper, by Permanent Secretary Jonathan Slater and carried outside No10 by an unnamed official, states:
| |“The con doc [consultation document] says we will open new grammars, albeit that they would have to follow various conditions. The SoS’s [Secretary of State’s] clear position is that this should be presented in the con doc as an option, and only to be pursued once we have worked with existing grammars to show how they can be expanded and reformed in ways which avoid disadvantaging those who don’t get in.
I simply don’t know what the PM thinks of this, but it sounds reasonable to me, and I simply can’t see any way of persuading the Lords to vote for selection on any other basis.”
There are two obvious possibilities of expansion for Kent grammar schools in Kent, Firstly, as I have long maintained, I believe the Sevenoaks annexe of Weald of Kent Grammar School which is currently under construction for an additional intake of 90 girls, will soon be allowed to take in an equal number of boys, possibly under new legislation, or more simply by a change of regulation. Indeed the Chairman of Governors floated the idea in January 2016, indicating support from the then Secretary of State for Education, and targeting September 2018 admissions. Secondly, the resurrection of the Coastal grammar school concept, in Herne Bay, first put forward by KCC in the 1980s, and most recently, but unsuccessfully by Barton Court Grammar School in 2014.
It may of course be that those advocating the proposals will find the challenge of: "working with existing grammars to show how they can be expanded and reformed in ways which avoid disadvantaging those who don’t get in" impossible to achieve.
However, Barton Court, which clearly has expansionist ambitions, has now focused on developing its own site and increasing its intake to 150 boys and girls as well as taking over the running of the Charles Dickens School in Broadstairs as an academy, so may have lost its appetite for this particular project.
Whilst both of these ideas would be very popular with aspiring parents of bright children, as confirmed by the many children attending private schools after failing to gain grammar school admission, neither will be well received by opponents of selective education. These would include many of the non-selective schools who will fear loss of their brightest pupils in a climate where these children contribute importantly to examination performance, for academic performance is becoming ever more critical to school survival.
More controversial would be the setting up of further annexes, or self-standing schools under grammar school management in areas where there are currently no grammars, such as East Sussex, which could damage successful comprehensive schools (and so may be unpopular with some Conservative MPs) or parts of South East London. I can see both of these very tempting to some of the grammar schools along the western boundary of Kent. But why stop there? An ambitious group like the Invicta Valley Park Academy Trust, the original promoters of the Sevenoaks Annexe, may also cast its eyes across the county boundary. After all, as I wrote last May post-election, covering all these issues, Theresa May, when Home Secretary was at that time advocating a grammar school annex in Maidenhead or Windsor, managed from Slough or another Berkshire grammar, so I presume she is supportive of the concept.