Kent Council Considers Opening New Grammar School
A Conservative council will examine whether it can open a new grammar school following a relaxation of rules by the government, which will be the first academically selective school in 50 years.
Kent County Council is to look at a legal change introduced by Education Secretary Michael Gove late last year to set up single-sex grammar schools in Sevenoaks following a petition by parents. Under the new admissions rules, councils can no longer block the expansion of both grammar and comprehensive schools.
The government change does not allow for entirely new grammar schools, but it would allow existing schools to open an annex in Sevenoaks to cater for the demand.
The area is the only part of Kent which does not have a grammar school - meaning around 1,100 pupils have to travel 15 miles to Tunbridge Wells to receive a selective school education.
Kent is also one of the few areas in the country that still has grammar schools, alongside Birmingham, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire - who will all be watching the controversial bid closely.
The announcement comes after campaigners lost their school selection bid in October 2010. Nearly 200 complaints were submitted against the selection policies of schools in Kent, according to BBC reports. Schools adjudicator Dr Bryan Slater ruled the institutions could keep their admissions system as there were "not enough places".
Following the ruling, Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon launched a call for more grammar school places in Kent.
Mike Whiting, cabinet member for education on Kent County Council, said the annex would cater for around 120 pupils in Sevenoaks.
The matter is to be discussed at a full council meeting in March and he explained he would be speaking to head teachers in West Kent later this month to discuss if they would be prepared to set up the grammar annexes.
"We have been looking at the relaxation of rules that allows existing grammar schools to expand and that allows them to create annexes at another site," Mr Whiting said. "If it went ahead it would effectively be a new grammar school.
"Between now and March we will find out what is possible and what is not possible but what the parents are asking for makes sense because there is no grammar school in Sevenoaks."
Grammar schools have been a minority in the education system since the 1960s when the then Labour government moved to comprehensive education.
The move by Kent County Council is controversial and opponents of selective education will claim it could damage local comprehensive schools.