Friday, 30 November 2012

Sevenoaks Christian Free School Consultation Response

Sevenoaks ACE is responding to the consultation based on the 914 responses to a survey of predominantly primary and pre-school parents in July 2012.  This survey included responses in respect of 261 children in school years 5 and 4 (starting secondary school in 2013 and 2014).


Children in Sevenoaks are de-selected from schools.  Super-selective grammar schools de-selecting based on the highest 11+ test scores, grammar schools de-select based on the parent’s ability to fund a private education and/or tutoring and faith schools de-select based on the absence of church attendance.  Parental choice in the area is almost non-existent. 

Due in part to the selective system operating in Kent, and in part to the presence of a single state secondary school servicing the communities within the Sevenoaks area, 75% of children do not attend a local school.  Data from Kent County Council taken from its January Census 2012 shows the number of children in each of years 7-11 living in the Sevenoaks area to be as follows:

Respondents indicated that more than 55% of children spend over 30 minutes a day travelling to secondary school.  The range is from up to 15 minutes to over 2 hours.

“The Sevenoaks Problem” as it has become known locally is that it is a commuter town.  The adults commute to the city and the children commute to school.  All parties are agreed that any new provision should have a significant impact on the number of children that are travelling these long distances each day.

One of the questions on the consultation questionnaire for the Christian Free School is:
Do you agree that the Trust should enter into formal arrangements with the Secretary of state for Education to open the school in September 2013?

When responding to this question one has to consider alternative proposals, along with information about factors such as available sites, funding and the impact on other schools.
The proposed school is a niche school.  It will have a very particular ethos that will appeal to a niche of the population.  40% of children represented in the survey were described as having “No Religion” and of these the Christian Free School would be first choice for just 5.4% of children.  Results from the survey further indicate that for those children who achieve an 11+ pass, a grammar education will override personal faith when it comes to school choices.

The table above shows the school or type of school that parents would select if their child passes the 11+
(623 respondents representing 1142 children)

Kent County Council is presently pursuing plans to open an annexe of a Grammar School.  Responses to the survey indicate that even if this is not successful there is considerable support for an alternative proposal that would provide a grammar style education without the need for a selective test, either via a grammar stream in an all-ability school, or in some other form.

Indications are that an annexe of a Grammar School would have on roll 99% of its students who would otherwise have attended a school outside of the Sevenoaks area.  The survey data indicates that the proposed Free School may attract 68% of students who would otherwise have attended an out of area school, the remainder of students would otherwise have attended either state or independent schools within Sevenoaks. 

The only state secondary school in the area is a sponsored academy; Knole Academy which has been in receipt of considerable government funding and is due to benefit from a substantial government funded extension.  It is therefore concerning that responses show the proposed Free School would see a migration of circa 30.8% of local children away from the Knole Academy (approximately 36 of its 240 Published Admissions Number).  This will do nothing to reduce the commuting time of these children, and will serve to weaken local support for the Knole Academy.

The most helpful solution for the people of Sevenoaks would be for a single new “inclusive” school of 180-240 places which could meet the needs of the majority of those children travelling out of the area to secondary school.  Unfortunately, as it stands at present, largely due to a reluctance to embrace any new ways of thinking, neither of the proposals on the table is likely to achieve this in its own right. 

The DfE must consider, when assessing this application whether there are sufficient resources to fund two new schools in Sevenoaks.  Whether this be the Christian Free School and an annexe to a grammar school (via the LA) or the Christian Free School and an alternative proposal.  The answer is yes if:
  • there are sufficient sites and financial resources to achieve both;
  • neither will preclude the other;
  • the proposed Free School will have a positive impact on the travelling of circa 90 children;
  • the impact assessment on the Knole Academy does not have an adverse outcome

If however, it is clear that there is insufficient available land and/or funds to support two new proposals, plus the existing Knole Academy, the best result for the wider community would be for an annexe to a Grammar School or a more inclusive alternative to be established.


The consultation leaflet for the Christian Free School states on admissions:

“We will encourage young people of all faiths and none to attend the school. If it is over-subscribed, half of the places will be for churchgoers and half will be reserved for children from non-churchgoing families.”

This statement gives a strong impression that applications will be divided into two groups, those which are from churchgoing families and those which are not, and that places will be allocated half from one group and half from the other.

The actual text of the Admissions Policy[1] states that, “after [the statutory obligation of] allocating places to children with statements of Special Educational Need where the school is named in the statement places will be allocated … in the following priority order:

      1. Looked after and previously looked after children
the remaining places will be split into
      2. Faith Places
      3. Open Places. 

The Faith places will be allocated first (up to 50%), so any application deemed to be a Faith application – ie from a churchgoing family will be dealt with as priority 2.

The admissions policy states that “Open places are available to all applicants”.  In practice this will mean that those applications from churchgoing families which have not so far been successful, will also be eligible for an Open Place.  These applications will therefore have ‘two chances’ of being successful. 

The statement on the consultation leaflet is misleading as the Open Places are not reserved for non-churchgoing families.

If this is not the intention of the over-subscription criteria, the wording should be changed to make it unambiguous.

Summary of Data[2]

Responses to the Sevenoaks ACE Secondary School Survey in July indicate the faith schools and Knole Academy will feel the greatest impact of the Christian Free School, and the grammar schools will feel the impact of a Grammar Annexe in Sevenoaks.

The survey asked respondents to indicate school choice from the options that already exist, and then asked how this might change if both a Grammar Annexe and the Christian Free School were available.  623 respondents answered one or both of these questions in respect of 1,146 children in Year 6 or below.  Respondents were asked to respond in each of three scenarios, without an 11+ pass, with an 11+ pass and with top marks in the 11+.

The table below consolidates all three scenarios and summarises the responses:

Data from Kent County Council (KCC) demonstrates that on average the number of children living in the Sevenoaks area[3] and attending Kent based secondary schools outside of the area is 331 per school year[4], with an additional 116 per year attending the Knole Academy. 

If the schools are successfully established the responses indicate the following potential changes in behaviour.

[1] As published at on 28th November 2012
[2] A copy of the full survey findings report will shortly be available at
[3] Sevenoaks area includes the planning districts of Dunton Green, Edenbridge, Halstead & Knockholt, Ide Hill, Sundridge & Brasted, Kemsing, Otford, Sevenoaks, & Westerham.
[4] Years 7 – 11- based on the January 2012 Schools Census

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