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Thursday, 14 November 2013 12:45

Grammar Schools: Sevenoaks Satellite & proposed expansion at Dartford Grammar School

Recent correspondence between Michael Fallon, MP for Sevenoaks and Michael Gove, Secretary of State, appears to suggest that any decision on the proposed satellite grammar school in Sevenoaks is far from clear cut.

Meanwhile, grammar school provision at Dartford Grammar looks set to increase, targeted at the ablest pupils from South East London.

Proposed Satellite Grammar School in Sevenoaks

The letter from Michael Fallon, dated 7th October, once more makes the case for the satellite, but finishes “I urge you to make a speedy decision”. Quite rightly, as time is passing, and the target date of opening in September 2015 relies on the building being mainly completed within the next 19 months. Planning permission may be working through, but not a brick can be laid until the decision is made, and any legal challenges resolved.

Mr Gove replied on 24th October: “Thank you for your letter of 7 October, about the provision of school places. I understand the difficulty pupils and families face in securing a suitable school place, and the distance many have to travel. Primary legislation prohibits the introduction of new selective schools and we must judge the proposals carefully to test whether they represent new schools or expansions.The Education Funding Agency (EFA) is assessing the proposals and will present its findings to ministers shortly. We will notify each school in writing as soon as a decision has been reached. In reaching our decision, we will consider all the evidence that has been presented through the process, and in correspondence with each academy trust. Thank you for writing to me on this important matter”.

Clearly, the central issue holding up proceedings is the one picked out by Mr Gove’s underlining: is the proposal for a new school or an expansion? ........

However, no mention of the potential difficulty of a single sex grammar school running co-educational provision.

 Mr Gove no longer has to balance government policy to promote Free Schools with party pressure to introduce new grammar school provision, as the current proposal, explained below, overcomes this objection, but from the length of time being taken to settle the issue there would appear to be legal issues which have to be unscrambled. Even if the outcome is positive, a 2015 opening appears to be coming less probable.

SUBSEQUENTLY: The Daily Mail  printed an article about the correspondence I obtained and published  10 days previously, creating the story above. I was also interviewed on Radio Kent and BBC SE as a result of my article. Paul Carter, Leader of KCC asked in an interview on Radio Kent why, if creating a new grammar school  was really illegal, government had not simply gone for a change in the law, given how many Conservative MPs were in favour of expansion of the grammar schools

 Dartford Grammar School

Dartford Grammar School is consulting on important changes to its oversubscription criteria, accompanied by a permanent increase in places to 150 for September 2015 entrance. The school currently has a fairly tight local priority area, all other places being awarded to high scorers, drawn mainly from South East London. For 2013 entry, I calculate there were 102 Kent boys offered places, the great majority of these being from the priority zone. The remaining 48 all came from London Boroughs. This forced the cut off score in the Kent Test this year for these high scorers up to 418 on 1st March allocation, the highest for any school in the county.

The new proposal appears to favour Kent boys with the priority area being increased to include: Greenhithe; Longfield; New Barn & Southfleet. Greenhithe has long been a problem area with boys often missing out at all of Dartford, Gravesend and Wilmington Grammar Schools, and so this is a welcome move. Longfield, New Barn and Southfleet boys used to choose between the three schools but in recent years, have not been able to access Dartford, except by high scores. However, this good news is tempered by a proposal to restrict access by this criterion to the 90 boys living closest to the school, and so I would guess that some in the new areas will still miss out, as the number of Kent offers will remain similar to previous years! Meanwhile some 30 additional places would be awarded to high scoring boys, mainly from SE London with a few from more distant parts of Kent.

These 30 places will add to some 200 additional places provided by other Kent grammar schools over the past three years, underlining the legality of grammar school expansions in the county. It is debatable where these additional children have come from, but the large majroity are surely amongst the most able children previously destined for non-selective schools, who now see the pressure on them to achieve target examination grades even tougher. 

Last modified on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 22:01

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