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Wednesday, 20 March 2013 00:00

Sevenoaks Grammar School Satellite Sponsor is announced: Invicta Grammar, Maidstone


UPDATE: Mike Whiting, Cabinet Member for education at KCC has made a statement to the KCC Education Cabinet Meeting on 19th March. 

Kent County Council has unveiled its Sponsor School for the Sevenoaks Satellite Grammar School and the proposal resolves a variety of potentially troublesome issues, as well as making a great deal of sense all round.

The sponsor is the Valley Invicta Academies Trust which manages both Invicta Grammar School and Valley Park School in Maidstone. Both schools have Outstanding OFSTED Inspections, key features of Invicta's success in September 2012 including: "There is an unyielding pursuit of excellence by the headteacher, senior leaders, middle leaders and governors; Achievement is outstanding across all key stages and in all subjects with all groups of students; The overall quality of teaching is outstanding and inspires, enthuses and motivates students in their thirst for knowledge". Valley Park's OFSTED is older, but this is the third most oversubscribed school of any type in the county,  confirming its outstanding reputation, and possibly being the only non-selective school in Kent commanding a house price premium.

Thus we can be sure that the proposed satellite (preferred to annexe) grammar school will be outstandingly managed, an essential quality if it is to pick its way through the minefield ahead. In one leap it overcomes my own concerns about its organisation.......


These centred on the original proposal to have a boys' and a girls' grammar school jointly running the satellite, with two different sets of admission rules for boys and girls and two different cultures, organisations and ethos co-existing in one institution. I cannot believe that KCC has gone down the proposed route without thoroughly exploring and satisfying itself about the legality of a girls' grammar sponsoring  a co-educational satellite. 

Now the proposal is for a co-educational satellite on the Wildernesse site with a single admission process allowing the balance between boys and girls to vary according to demand. I have never believed there are enough girls to go round, and if Judd and Skinners revert to four forms of entry (they enlarged to five for 2013 entry only), there will once again be pressure on boys' places which can now be fully absorbed. My initial belief was that the original concept would not look attractive enough to girls to attract them away from the established grammar schools in Tonbridge, but I think it now could as it begins to look an exciting and coherent option. 

Just one problem: The Secretary of State "is minded" to award the Wildernesse School site to the Trinity School, the new Free Christian Free School (see below). I understand that the proposal for the satellite grammar will land on his desk on Monday,and what a headache it should give him. On the one hand he is championing a well thought out Free School, which he claims has the support of the community, but on a site which is owned by KCC and earmarked by them for the Satellite.  Further, there is no shortage of non-selective places in Sevenoaks. On the other hand he is faced with a well thought out proposal which has strong proven support, in a town with no grammar school, forcing local grammar school ability children to travel to other towns if there are places for them, except that there is a demonstrable shortage of boys grammar school places in West Kent. KCC is clear that there is no room for both schools on the site, and even if there were, it would involve a massive waste of resources in adapting and rebuilding two schools. Julie Derrick, headteacher of Invicta Grammar School, has said on Radio Kent that she "would be happy to collaborate with the Trinity School, but the decision is down to the politicians". I am sure that this possibility has been looked at already, and it would be helpful to see a more detailed justification as to why there is only room for one school on the site, or how and if two could be managed.  

KCC has the political determination to take legal action to win this battle. They are looking at entry in 2015 for the first students. This could be a battle that will go on for a long time. But Trinity School does not have that luxury. It has already made offers to students for entry in six months time, who now face legal uncertainty for the indefinite future, if they hold to the school, although nearly all will have an alternative. This could well prove a fatal blow to its prospects. 

Many grammar schools across the country will be watching this development closely. If Mr Gove allows it to stand, and I suspect he will,  be prepared for similar proposals to spring up elsewhere, with grammar schools setting up satellites nearby or else in comprehensive areas or counties without current grammar school provision. The concept is already being explored in Devon, which has a mixed economy of grammar and comprehensive schools. Such a development would be politically very popular in many parts of the Conservative party, certainly more so than a free school programme already burdened with difficulties. It would inevitably alter further the already rapidly changing face of education provision in the country. 

As part of the deal, Valley Park School and Invicta Grammar School have accepted Kent County Council support to  secure the finding necessary to enhance sporting facilities, to be shared between the two schools which are adjacent to each other. 

It is worth noting that Dr Phillip Limbert, Chief Executive Officer of Valley Invicta Academies Trust, is also Director of Education of the Clarendon Academies Trust, a potential academy chain which has a target of running 2000 schools.

Last modified on Sunday, 16 March 2014 17:25

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