Thursday, 29 March 2012

Coverage from the Council Debate

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

BBC South East Today

The campaign for a grammar school for Sevenoaks featured on BBC South East Today on Monday 26th March, in anticipation of the full council debate to be held on Thursday 29th March.

Sevenoaks ACE has always campaigned for sufficient secondary school places that meet the needs of the community.  The difficulty right now is that discussion about the grammar school is over-shadowing the wider issue on overall capacity.  Kent County Council is proposing to create 180 additional secondary school places in the Sevenoaks area.  With plans for 120 of these to be grammar, how will the remaining 60 be provided? 

Within a selective education system, in order to meet the needs of the community, grammar provision is likely to be part of the solution.

There are presently 180 children in year 7 travelling to grammar schools in Tonbridge and T.Wells from the Sevenoaks area.  There are 224 children making the same journey to other types of schools.  

Establishing a grammar school in Sevenoaks is just one part of a bigger problem that we hope to help resolve.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

What is meant by an Annexe?

On Thursday KCC will debate the petition for grammar school annexes for Sevenoaks.  What exactly is an annexe, how could it operate, and which schools might be involved?

What is an annexe?
An annexe is created when an existing school enlarges its capacity through expanding its premise to an additional site.  In such a situation the regulations state that consultation is required and that the consultation proposal must describe why an additional site is necessary.  There appears to be no test case for how far away an annexe may be created, and still be deemed an annexe rather than a new school.  For many an annexe implies a site close to the main school, dealing with overspill.  Can a remote site, with independent facilities, infrastructure and staffing be regarded as an annexe?

How could it operate?
The West Kent Learning Forum is a loose knit group of head-teachers from the 17 secondary schools in West Kent.  This area covers Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Paddock Wood and Cranbrook.  Following a meeting with KCC on 26th January at which the heads were asked if they would support grammar school annexes in Sevenoaks, several of those head teachers have made public comments.

Stuart Reeves, head teacher of Mascalls School in Paddock Wood and chairman of West Kent Learning Forum, said his fellow forum members were "wary" of the prospect of a new grammar school in Sevenoaks.   He added: "I'm not sure the appetite for it exists and it may be that it brings schools to overcapacity."

Ian Bauckham, the head of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, Tunbridge Wells who is not being asked to create an annexe of his school, has said "an annexe to a grammar school some miles away from the "parent" school would cause many practical difficulties."

Robert Masters, head of The Judd school in Tonbridge which operates a super-selective policy, and is not being asked to create an annexe has said that Kent County Council's preferred solution of creating an annexe or two annexes to an existing grammar school "is not immediately attractive to most head teachers for a number of reasons".  He added: "Clearly if new provision was to be made in Sevenoaks then a new standalone grammar school focussing on Sevenoaks would be the best solution, but that is not permissible in law at the present time."

The head of Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys, John Harrison, who is likely to be asked to create an annexe of his school to accommodate Sevenoaks boys has said: "Any increase in provision needs to be very carefully considered.  I think it is wise for the local authority to consider a range of possible options to meet the increased demand and grammar school provision should be a consideration within that.  I am aware a Kent County Council debate is scheduled for the end of the month and, following that, some clarity over the way forward might exist."

From a day to day perspective, the questions on how an annexe might be run are endless? 

  • How often will the head be on site?
  • Will the Senior Leadership Team have to spend time travelling between sites?
  • How will children wishing to participate in school sports teams get to training sessions and at which site will they occur?
  • Will existing staff move to the annexe or will it be staffed by new recruits?
  • Will existing Sevenoaks children at the "parent school" be able to move to the annexe or will it open purely for year 7 admissions in its first year?
  • In 2011 63 Boys and 68 Girls accepted places at the Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells grammar schools.  KCC's proposal is for 2 forms of boys and 2 forms of girls, ie 60 each.  So what will hapen to the remaining children, and how will population increases impact on this?
  • Will staff work across both annexes or will there need to be up to 10 staff (to cover all subjects) for each annexe ie 20 staff for 120 pupils in year 1?
Which schools might be involved?
In accordance with the Government’s position that there should be no increase in academic selection, the expansion of grammar schools ... [is] excluded from capital incentive schemes.  The consensus is that a secondary school that is a selective Academy (ie a grammar school that has converted to an Academy) would be unlikely to be able to open an annexe as its funding is from central government, rather than KCC.

The only boys grammar school in Tunbridge Wells or Tonbridge that does not super-select is Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys.  The other school most likely to be considered for a girl's annexe is Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar.  Both of these schools are about 11 miles away.

Weald of Kent which is slightly nearer has already coverted to an Academy

Newsted Woods and St Olaves in Orpington are both super-selective operating their own entrance exams, and outside of the Kent authority.

Further afield, there are several grammar schools in Dartford and Wilmington, which is about 13 miles away;  Dartford Grammar School for Boys is an Academy; Dartford Grammar School for Girls operates a catchment system with defined areas, and in the case that it is over-subscribed from these areas, awards places to the highest scores.  Wilmington Grammar School for Boys and Wilmington Grammar School for Girls are both Academies.

Maidstone which is about 16 miles away has Invicta Grammar School (an Academy), Oakwood Park (an Academy), Maidstone Grammar School for Boys which has complicated oversubscription criteria that gives priority to boys scoring a total of over 390 in the Kent tests and living in named parishes and Maidstone Grammar School for Girls

Finally, Cranbrook School, in Cranbrook, some 25 miles away, the only co-educational grammar school in the area admits at 13+ rather than 11+ and has its own selection test.  Rumours are circulating that it may be considering admitting from Year 7 instead of Year 9.

KCC is to debate the petition for a grammar school in Sevenoaks on 29th March.  Whilst it may be legally possible to create an annexe and there is no doubt that many Sevenoaks families would like grammar provision in the town, legally this is uncharted territory.  Is an annexe some 11 miles away just wishful thinking?  If it can be created, is the proposition compelling enough to persuade head teachers and parents that it can work?

Saturday, 17 March 2012

How Strong is the Community Spirit?

A copy of our letter this week in the Sevenoaks Chronicle:

I have heard it said that Sevenoaks has a strong community spirit.  Right now could be the greatest test of this assertion.  Once again significant numbers of local children have been disappointed with secondary school offers; being offered a non-selective that wasn’t on the application form or a school they’ve never heard of in Maidstone. 

This year however, something different has happened.  Knole Academy has undertaken to specifically cater for these students locally, by offering a grammar stream, a guarantee that they will be in the top streams at least until year 9.   So – this community has a choice.  It can continue to go on waiting lists and appeal for places at what will be increasingly over-crowded schools, some 9-12 miles away, or it can do something different.  I have heard of groups of 3 or 4 parents making pacts between themselves to accept the places offered at Knole.  Knole already has 11+ children in each year; what if 30 parents were prepared to make a public pact?  An entire form of grammar ability children, with such parental and peer support, working in partnership with the school would be a powerful force.  There is a lot at stake here for Knole.  Its reputation is on the line; established as an all ability school, with Sevenoaks School as a sponsor to cater for exactly this type of child – are they seriously going to allow this to fail? 

Many people discount Knole without having even stepped over the threshold.  I have heard from a wide range of people that Knole doesn’t offer triple science – a commonly held opinion that on investigation reveals itself to be untrue.  Knole won’t be the right option for all children, but perhaps for 25 – 30 of those in the nightmare situation right now, it could be. 

Can community spirit win through?

Monday, 12 March 2012

March Newsletter

News from Sevenoaks ACE

March 2012

Results Published | Your Likes, Dislikes and Wants

We have now published the results of the likes, dislikes and wants survey that we ran in January and February.  As an “open ended” piece of data collection where  residents could state, in free format, what they thought about these aspects, it was not particularly scientific, but it has highlighted some perceptions of issues which we will investigate more thoroughly in our quantitative survey later this year.

The full list of wantslikes and dislikes is available on our website.

Next Steps...

Development of the full survey is now well underway.  Using ideas, comments and perceptions highlighted by the likes, dislikes and wants, we are putting together a quantitiatve survey to gain better understanding of people's views about secondary school provision for the Sevenoaks area.  We hope to distribute this survey to all families in the Sevenoaks area including surrounding villages and towns who would have access to secondary school provision in the town.  For children of primary and secondary school age this is relatively straight forward in that we can hopefully use school's to provide a distribtuion channel.  Families with pre-school age children present a greater problem.  If you or somebody you know is involved with a nursery, playgroup, pre-school or other organisation and would be willing to help us with the distribtion of our survey then please get in touch.

Why is this important?

KCC has acknowledged that population increases over the next few years are going to put tremendous strain on secondary school places for children in the Sevenoaks areas.  The population in T.Wells is set to increase by around 200 11 year olds in 2013!  Such a high proportion of Sevenoaks children have historically attended schools in T.Wells; grammar, faith and non-selective schools - they are simply going to be pushed out of catchment on distance rules.

KCC must provide sufficient capacity.  It is a legal obligation.  Whilst there are two proposals on the table, neither is yet a guarantee of future capacity, and if for some reason, neither is able to happen, then plan B will have to be put in place, and quickly.  Any decision over a free school, a grammar school or a plan 'B' will be hugely strengthened by a body of evidence of the demands of local parents.

Secondary School Offers made
March 1, 2012

KCC Cabinet Debate on Secondary Provision for Sevenoaks
March 29, 2012

Free School bid interviews
End April 2012 onwards

Get in Touch

Do you have a little spare time to help our team.  There is a huge amout of work in the administration of the survey which, if shared out could be cut into manageable chunks.  If you feel strongly about the future of secondary education in Sevenoaks, then please get in touch and see how you might help.

twitter: @sevenoaksace

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