The Department for Education has, after many months of consideration, turned down the two applications from Invicta Grammar School and the Weald of Kent grammar school to establish a Sevenoaks grammar annexe.
The DfE argued that the proposals “do not represent an expansion of the existing schools and therefore cannot be approved.” In other words, the DfE considered that both proposals amounted to the creation of new grammar schools, which is against the law. Among the key issues of concern to the Department were the fact that both proposals required separate Published Admission Numbers (PAN) at each site rather than one for the school as a whole. In addition – and there is some relationship between the two issues – the fact that the grammar annexes would be co-educational while the schools themselves are single-sex was seen as being in contravention of the Code.
At the same time, the DfE noted that, in the case of the Weald of Kent, “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.” In both cases, the DfE stated that “we remain open to considering further proposals in the future.”
There is no denying that this is a setback and a disappointment. The whole drive to create a Sevenoaks grammar annexe was built on strong public demand and support – seen in the petition that triggered the County Council debate and vote of March 2012, and the strong response to consultation on the proposals from parents across the Sevenoaks area. There is a clearly demonstrated need for more selective school places in West Kent over the next few years. And it remains an absurd anomaly that so many young people travel out of Sevenoaks District for their secondary education every day. We need to be able to solve the Sevenoaks problem and the West Kent problem together.
However, the DfE’s response leaves the door open to further applications. This was also clear from a meeting yesterday between Education Secretary Michael Gove, Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon an KCC Leader Paul Carter. Roger Gough, Cabinet Member for Education at KCC said: “What we at KCC and the schools must now do is to examine the issues raised by the DfE and see what can be done to address them. As the Department put it, “We will need to assess any future proposals against the factors we have highlighted.” We will not walk away from the issue.”