Grammar Schools never really went away, despite comprehensivisation in the 1960’s and 70’s. One part of England that retained the Grammar system was Kent, whose Grammar Schools continue to use the ‘Kent Test’, the county’s own version of the 11+ as a means of selecting pupils.
Sevenoaks is one town in Kent without a Grammar School. Children who pass the Kent test take up places in other Grammar Schools in Kent (involving what might be a lengthy commute). Alternatively , they may enter the ‘Grammar Stream’ of Knole Academy in the town. However, this is about to change.
In September 2017 an annex of the Weald of Kent Grammar School for girls will open in Sevenoaks. Due to section 99 of the Schools Standards and Framework Act of 1998, restricting the creation of new Grammar Schools, this is not, technically, a new Grammar School. It is, however, an expansion, on a different site, of an existing Grammar school.
For those residents of Sevenoaks who have been campaigning for a Grammar School in their town this is, clearly good news.
Speaking on the day the Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan announced approval for the expansion of the Weald of Kent Grammar School, Andrew Shilling from the Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign said:
“Today’s news addresses the deep unfairness of Sevenoaks being the only district in Kent without a grammar school, which forces 1,100 Sevenoaks children to travel daily to grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, a round trip of up to 25 miles and two hours. This negatively impacts on their ability to learn, on their opportunities for hobbies and sport, on their opportunities to develop friendships, and on the time they spend with their families.”
Here we have the Grammar system normalised. The reference to the ‘deep unfairness’ refers not to the selective system as a whole, but the lack of Grammar School places in Sevenoaks. The unfairness isn’t felt by those who ‘fail’ the 11+ and who miss out on the opportunity for an academic education, but those children who are, apparently, ‘forced’ to travel outside of the town for such an education.
But is this ‘unfairness’ now resolved? The annex will be an extension of the Weald of Kent, a girls school. Boys will continue to travel out to Grammar Schools. Overall, the opening of the annex may not mean more pupils from Sevenoaks attending Grammar Schools. Rebecca Allen from Education Datalab thinks that there will only be a marginal increase in the number of Sevenoaks pupils attending Grammar Schools.
However, elsewhere we may be seeing a turn towards selection as other Grammar Schools make use of the ability to side-step the School Standards and Framework Act and establish annexes or satellites. The Telegraph reports that floodgates have opened, allowing a ‘wave’ of new Grammar School applications. The Guardian predicts that other Grammar Schools will be spurred on to apply to establish satellite schools. Schools Week has identified ten potential new areas of England which could see Grammar annexes established.