Kent County Council (KCC) operate the largest fully selective council in the country, and they are pouring around 30 million into expanding the grammar school system in the next year. A new campaign Review The Test is challenging the council’s assumption that Kent’s school system is popular, with a petition calling on the council to halt spending on selective education until Kent’s 11-plus test is reviewed.

It’s sad that Kent’s Tory councillors ignore good sense and clear evidence and persist with an 11-plus school system. They choose to sort children into a 25%  ‘academic’ group, while the remaining 75% are dismissed as inferior by an unreliable test and disallowed entry to the highest performing schools.

KCC’s school plan has determined that the county “needs” three new selective school ‘satellites’. The council is planning a 3 form entry boys grammar in Sevenoaks, a 5 form entry selective school on the coast near Herne Bay, and a 6 form entry selective school in Dartford.  New grammar schools are outlawed due to 1998 legislation, but since the Weald of Kent grammar school used a legal loophole to build a ‘satellite’ school 12 miles from its existing building, the spirit of the law has been broken. Now Kent County Council believes they can build as many new selective schools as they like.

It is easy to see how this method will used to expand selective education all over the country, and grammar school ‘satellites’ could easily spring up in towns that now offer comprehensive education. Medway council already hopes to build a new satellite grammar school in its authority, while Croydon MP Chris Philps launched his election campaign with a video pledge to bring grammar school education to his comprehensive borough.

The Conservative government assigns £50 million a year to expanding selective schools, this will be likely continue under a Boris Johnson government. One new selective school ‘satellite’ could be built each year using this fund, all while avoiding controversial legislation. Yes, the government will say these are ‘satellites’ and not new schools. But these ‘satellites’ look just like new schools, they operate just like new schools, and this feels like a backdoor route to creating new grammar schools.

Tunbridge Wells Grammar school for Boys has launched a consultation on plans to open a satellite school in Sevenoaks. This is a council run school so the decision is up to KCC and not the Department for Education. This means Kent’s pro-selection council are certain to approve their own plan. The only way to stop this is if enough people respond to the consultation to say it’s a bad idea.

Please fill in the response form and email to say you oppose this plan, particularly if you’re based in Kent.

Here’s some points you might make when you respond to Kent County Council:

There is no evidence of a need for selective school expansion. All the evidence shows that pupils in the top 25% for attainment achieve excellent results in non-selective schools – this means there is no need for selective places. Sevenoaks has good local high schools with dedicated provision for high attaining pupils – it is better to expand schools that admit all local pupils.

There is no review or public involvement in the decision to offer 25% of secondary places in grammar schools. Kent’s projected “need” for these school places is based on a 25% / 75% divide of Kent children in school place planning documents. Yet this percentage hasn’t been reviewed for decades, or discussed with local people. The council should not stick to an outdated education plan without offering local people a democratic say on their local system of education. Many people in Kent would like the 11-plus to end, the council appears to hide from this debate, and to avoid reviewing aspects of unfairness such as tuition giving wealthier parents an advantage.

Inequality of school provision. The council appears to be offering a school system that breeds inequality. There is a progress 8 score of -0.31 in Kent high schools and a progress score of +0.45 in Kent grammar schools. How can this unequal provision be fair? KCC should address the fact that their selective school system is offering inequality of opportunity, they should not expand selective schools when there is clear evidence grammar schools suppress the performance of other local schools.

Flawed Equality Impact Assessment. KCC’s Equality Impact Assesment claims the Tunbridge Wells Grammar School ‘has an inclusive admission policy’ and goes on to say, ‘The school is fully inclusive… It will meet the needs of children in Sevenoaks and in the local area, including those with SEN and/or disability.” This is not true, this school has extremely low proportions of SEN pupils. If KCC want inclusive schools they should NOT expand selective schools, these schools admit far too few disadvantaged and SEN pupils. The best way to offer schools that work for SEN pupils is to offer schools with no admission test. It is also the case that low numbers of disadvantaged pupils pass the Kent Test. In 2018 there were 4858 disadvantaged pupils in year 6, yet only 258 achieved a qualifying score in the Kent Test. This means that few of these school places will reach poorer children.  This damages social cohesion and is a serious cause for concern.

Flawed school place planning. The council’s  latest school planning documents state that the council wants 25% of secondary school pupils to attend grammar schools. However, the Sevenoaks district school plan shows 1170 of 3814 secondary school places are in local grammar schools. If the council are serious about 1 in 4 children attending grammar schools, they should reduce local selective places by 5%. There are too many places locally and therefore no need to build a new selective school.

New selective schools are illegal. Kent County Council should respect the law, and also the clear intention of the law. This ‘satellite’ is effectively a new grammar school. The council should not seek backdoor routes to building new grammar schools.

To respond to the KCC consultation you can return a response form by midday on 6th December 2019 to:

Post: Ian Watts, Area Education Officer, Kent County Council, West 11, Worrall House, 30 Kings Hill Avenue, Kings Hill, Kent ME19 4AE

Hand: Hand your response in to the school office at Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys, St John’s Rd, Tunbridge Wells TN4 9XB

Comprehensive Future’s Chair, Dr Nuala Burgess, said, “It’s laughable to see a grammar school described as ‘inclusive’ in the council’s equality impact assessment document. Grammar schools are the opposite of inclusive – figures show that they exclude the most disadvantaged children. Comprehensive Future will be challenging Kent County Council’s claim that school serves its community when we respond to this consultation.

We note that while the impact assessment mentions the percentages of SEN and disadvantaged pupils in the local area, it avoids any mention of the percentages for these groups in the expanding school. The reason for this is because numbers are shamefully low. If the council genuinely cared about inclusive education, they would build a new school which accepted all local children, not just a tiny minority who pass an outdated and discriminatory test.”

Please tell Kent County Council to abandon this plan, they should be reviewing the flaws with their old fashioned system of education not expanding the selective school system.