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Monday, 01 July 2013 00:00

Sevenoaks Grammar School Satellite: Latest


Tuesday update to article below

 Radio Kent this morning carried a live double interview between Philip Limbert, Chief Executive of Valley Invicta Academies Trust, and David Bower, Chairman of Governors  of Weald of Kent Grammar School. Both made the case for their own institutions running the proposed satellite grammar school in Sevenoaks and agreed on a number of principles including an apparently comfortable acceptance of the fact that this has now become a competition. To quote Dr Limbert: “What is most important is that there is grammar school provision in Sevenoaks, not who runs it”. Roger Gough, the new KCC Cabinet Member for Education, and a Sevenoaks District Councillor, clarified the situation  for the Authority. Whilst KCC had worked with Invicta in the early stages of the project, they will now work with both bids and it would up to Michael Gove to make the final decision. The contribution from the Sevenoaks Grammar School campaign continued to denigrate the Weald bid suggesting their approach is now becoming increasingly divorced from the declared aim (below).

Footnote: In an unbroadcast portion of my own interview, I used the term “morphed” to describe the process of moving from four to six forms of entry for the proposed satellite. I should have trademarked it, as it has now become Radio Kent language to describe the change!  

Please note: the facts and issues outlined here are becoming immensely complicated. If I have made any errors of fact, please feel free to let me have the opportuntity to correct them. Opinions are my own!

I have never in over 40 years of working in education in Kent seen such an unpleasant battle as that which has now broken out over the proposed 6 form entry satellite grammar school on the Wildernesse site in Sevenoaks. As explained in a previous article, there are now two establishments vying to run the satellite if it actually comes about and that article provides considerable detail on the issues and background of what is a now four sided battle. The institutions  are the Valley Invicta Academies Trust (VIAT) from Maidstone - incorporating Invicta Grammar School,  and Weald of Kent Grammar School from Tonbridge. However, the site has already been provisionally promised by government to the Trinity Free School for September 2015, when The Knole Academy should vacate it to fully occupy its own new purpose built premises.

At the bottom of this article, I provide an approximate time line of events from 1463 to the present. VIAT were the first to publish a proposal in March, in conjunction with KCC. Last week, Weald of Kent published the rival bid for the satellite, claiming they have the support of Patrick Leeson, Director of Education for Kent. Roger Gough has now confirmed that some discussions had taken place. 

New: I am told that at meetings for both Invicta and WOK,  KCC has indicated it is already making progress with building design following the initial Invicta bid. The current plan is for the existing buildings to be levelled and a new build begun from scratch. What appears to be a considerable investment in planning work confirms KCC's commitment to the scheme in anticipation of a positive decision by the Secretary of State. 

Predictably but sadly, the Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign (SGSC) and some of its supporters have turned their guns on the Weald proposal producing some very offensive statements, rather than engage in rational debate on how best to secure grammar school provision in Sevenoaks, and correspondence on the SGSC website has had to be removed after the threat of legal action by Weald. I am not suggesting that this has anything to do with VIAT. SGSC has previous form in this kind of destructive campaigning having previously been running down the Trinity Free school proposals, unnecessarily so as VIAT has made clear that they would be happy for the two projects to share the site.

Currently, both VIAT and Weald are engaged in consultations on their proposals. SGSC making clear their own approach by stating: “If you wish to support the campaign for a grammar school in Sevenoaks, then we recommend that you should vote twice by casting a “yes” vote to the Invicta Grammar School bid, and then a “no” vote to the Weald of Kent Grammar School bid”. How on earth would this strategy support the stated campaign aim: "Our aim is to establish a state grammar school in Sevenoaks that admits boys and girls from Year 7 (aged 11); a school that will use a non-super selective admissions policy based on a catchment area covering Sevenoaks and its surrounding villages"? Why not support both bids and secure maximum support for the project in principle, then allowing the most promising to go forward, rather than pointlessly rubbishing a Weald bid that has many good points, as they are doing. After all, the SGSC is to be congratulated on  achieving remarkable success by securing support for a grammar school via an e-petition to KCC, which has seen KCC pledge to do its best to bring this about. Before VIAD came on the scene, SGSC happily ran with the original concept, a pair of single sex grammar schools who for different reasons both dropped out of the project. What a shame that some of the actions of the campaign and its supporters have marred their excellent achievements.

What is obvious from the published statements is that Weald of Kent feels that they were never offered the opportunity to look as a single school at the six form satellite grammar school, with the added inducement of KCC supporting a bid for capital sporting facilities.

My own expectation remains, as explained in my previous article, that most or all of Tonbridge Grammar School, The Judd School and The Skinner’s School who have each put on an additional form of entry for September 2013 will make this permanent, along with Weald of Kent which has already enlarged its own intake permanently from September 2013 onwards. Certainly, with KCC having asked Judd and Skinners to extend for 2013, we can anticipate this happening again until and if the satellite opens, to meet the otherwise chronic shortfall of places for gramamr school boys in West Kent. 

This might have suggested that there will be limited demand for additional places from a satellite grammar school, but once again my previous article suggests five reservoirs of potential students for any additional capacity. These are in addition to new predictions published by KCC and incorporated into Weald’s consultation document. This prediction suggests a need for 15 additional classes of entry by 2017/18 from numbers in September 2013, although the figures I have been sent state that only 9 new forms will be required, with the 15 in 2018/19. Less than half of this will be needed for grammar school provision. This counts only children attending mainstream schools.

I was asked by Radio Kent today to forecast what would be the expected demand in 2017. My current belief is that with these potential reservoirs, whilst it is impossible to predict with any confidence and given the anticipated expansion of the other West Kent grammar schools, there will be demand for at least a four form entry satellite in September 2017, which should have the potential to expand to six. However, it must be realised in this great game of monopoly, played out in different ways across the county and country, where there are winners there must also be losers as other school see their brightest pupils drawn away.

I am starting to have serious doubts about any annex or satellite being launched for September 2015, for we haven’t even reached the stage of possible legal challenges being introduced (and there are plenty of possibilities here), or premises being designed and planning permissions sought and I continue to have doubts about the legality of the whole process. So plenty of opportunity for slippage there to 2016; possibly even unto September 2017, by which time there will surely be a pressing need for additional provision even if the other schools expand as I expect. 

Weald of Kent Grammar is holding an open evening at Amherst School on Monday July 8th at 7 p.m. Let us hope they will be  heard with the respect allowed to the Invicta presentation. 

It doesn't take a genius to see there will be plenty of unpredictable controversy ahead!

Time Line

1432 A.D. Sevenoaks School was founded, subsequently becoming the town’s grammar school. It appears never to have been incorporated into the state system, and so Sevenoaks is one of the few towns in Kent with no state grammar school.

1 Mar 2012: over 90 boys in West Kent area who had passed their 11 plus tests were not offered a grammar school place anywhere and subsequently went on to the Tunbridge Wells Grammar School  for Boys waiting list.

29Mar 2012: KCC agreed to pursue proposals to provide a new grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks.  The proposition: 'The recommendation is that in response to an ePetition, Kent County Council pursues proposals to provide 2FE of selective secondary provision for boys, 2FE of selective secondary provision for girls and 2FE of mixed non-selective provision for students resident in the Sevenoaks south area, that would meet legal requirements' was passed.

May 2012: both Weald of Kent Grammar school and Tonbridge Grammar School offered additional places, apparently a temporary expansion to reduce pressure on places.

May 2012: Weald of Kent Grammar School responded to a consultation it had carried out and agreed to accept an additional 30 girls permanently, taking its intake to 175 from 2013 onwards. This reduced the immediate need for an annex, at least for girls.

21 October 2012: Leader of KCC announced agreement with a grammar school to sponsor the mixed annex in Sevenoaks. Talks were also ongoing with a second school.

New Christian Free School also looking for a site. Both proposals focus on the Wildernesse school site to be vacated by the Knole Academy for September 2015.

9 January 2013: KCC confirms preferred site for a grammar school annex is Wildernesse premises.

Beginning of 2013: Weald of Kent claim they were in discussions with KCC for a four form entry annex, but withdrew as they considered this size was not viable.

Somewhere around now, the two first schools considering sponsorship of the annex withdrew.

January 2013: The Judd School & The Skinners’ School both announce an increase in intake for September 2013 of 30 boys, Tonbridge Grammar school of 23 girls each for one year only.

12 March 2013: Government agrees in principle to awarding the KCC owned Wildernesse site to Trinity Free School (the new name for the Christian Free School) in 2015.

14 March 2013: KCC Cabinet Member for Education  argues there is no need for additional non-selective education as there is a surplus in the area. Hence no need for Trinity.

19 March 2013: KCC Cabinet member for Education confirms to Education Committee that KCC is responding strongly against the government proposal for the Wildernesse site to go to Trinity.

20 March 2013: KCC announces that The Valley Invicta Academies Trust (Valley Park School & Invicta Grammar School Trust) will sponsor the new satellite (name changed from annex) grammar school. The Trust will be rewarded by the inducement of KCC support in a bid for capital works to provide additional sporting facilities. There is no mention of numbers; general assumption is that it is for the 120 children talked about in previous documents

21 March 2013: Chief Executive of VIAT says satellite and Trinity could work together on same site.

Throughout this period, supporters of the Sevenoaks Grammar School campaign robustly attack (some might say attempt to bully) those supporting the Trinity Free School in an apparent attempt to drive away potential students. The Campaign website has echoed some of these views. Trinity behaves with quiet dignity.

Trinity announces temporary premises in Riverhead to occupy for the two years until the permanent site at Wildernesse is available (this type of temporary arrangement is typical for many new Free Schools).

Somewhere between March and May the VIAT proposal morphs into a six form entry school, although this was not specified initially!

April 2013: Trinity School; given Funding Approval by Government to go ahead.

May 2013: VIAT begins public consultation on its proposals for the satellite.

13 June 2013:  Weald of Kent writes to Secretary of State stating that they (a) see no need for a satellite grammar school; (b) if there is to be one they are best placed to run it; (c) they had dropped out of previous discussions with KCC as they considered 4 forms of entry were inappropriate. They claim they were never offered six forms of entry, nor the inducement to VIAT of sporting facilities as VIAT were. A letter is sent to parents outlining their case.

The Sevenoaks Grammar school Campaign website publishes an exchange of 7 letters between Andrew Shilling, founder of the campaign and Weald of Kent. This is removed following the threat of legal action by Weald.

1 July 2013: Weald of Kent sends out Consultation documents to parents.

Last modified on Friday, 05 December 2014 23:11

1 comment

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 03 July 2013 11:34 posted by Amanda M

    VIAT stated at the consultation meeting that contrary to press reports they have not requested, nor been offered any capital funding for buildings. They have received help in the form of a letter from KCC to support a bid to the EFA which has been successful. PETER: Thanks; you are of course correct and I have made the correction. However, the initial statements by both KCC and Invicta made much of the 'support' to be offered by KCC to the Invicta application for sports facilities, so it sounds much more than just a letter. Whatever, it was successful and although we don't yet know the sum of money awarded by EFA, Invicta/Valley has already seen benefit from the bid for the satellite, whatever the outcome.

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