Education secretary Nicky Morgan has set out her reasons for approving a controversial new grammar school.
Ms Morgan today has given the go-ahead to plans for the first new selective state school in five decades – a 450-pupil grammar school in Sevenoaks, Kent.
In a written ministerial statement on school expansion, the education secretary has clarified her reasons for approving an annexe of the existing Weald of Kent School – which is due to open on a new site in 2017 10 miles away from the current Tonbridge grammar school.
Here are the minister’s justifications for her decision:
- She believes the proposal represents “a genuine expansion of the existing school”, and she is convinced the two sites – educating girls in Tonbridge and Sevenoaks – will be fully integrated
- Currently, the Weald of Kent Grammar School is one of the top performing schools in the country, with 99 per cent of its students achieving five A*-C grades in GCSE exams in 2014. She is optimistic this high standard of learning will be replicated at the annexe
- The new school will “better meet the needs of parents in the local area", Ms Morgan claims, as a high number (41 per cent) of existing pupils at the Weald of Kent Grammar School currently travel from the Sevenoaks area
- She insists that it does not reflect a change in this government’s position on selective schools but instead reaffirms the view “that all good schools should be able to expand” to meet the rising demand for pupil places
The decision comes almost four years after Sevenoaks parents launched a campaign for a new grammar school.
Andrew Shilling, of the Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign, said: "Today's news is overdue recognition of the fact that a Sevenoaks grammar school is supported by the vast majority of local parents.”
But he added that the exclusion of boys at the Sevenoaks grammar annexe was “very unfortunate”. Mr Shilling said: “We are therefore lobbying the government to abolish the ridiculous law introduced in 1997 that prohibits the establishment of new grammar schools. This law change would enable boys to attend the Sevenoaks grammar school as well as girls."
The decision has been negatively received by those who oppose selective education. Christine Blower, general secretary of teaching union the NUT, said: “Giving the go-ahead to a so-called ‘satellite’ grammar school which is in fact 10 miles away from the existing grammar school is nothing more than a cynical sidestepping of the law which prevents new selective schools from opening.
“This new grammar school will add to England’s already highly fragmented education system. This has created an education market place where the most disadvantaged children and young people are those most likely to lose out. It is a simple fact that grammar schools have far fewer pupils with special educational needs or eligible for free school meals."
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of teaching union the ATL, has also spoken out against the scheme. She said: “A government which was serious about social mobility would not allow the expansion of selective education.”