Hot on the heels of the 2017 opening of the Weald of Kent Grammar School for Girls’ Sevenoaks ‘satellite’, Tunbridge Wells Boys’ Grammar School has been given the go-ahead to build a ‘satellite’ on the same Sevenoaks site.
Kent County Council’s education committee, which approved the decision on Friday, will spend £15-20 million to build the controversial grammar school extension. Due to open in September 2021, this latest satellite will be some 13 miles from the main school.
Current law does not allow the creation of new grammar schools and Comprehensive Future argues that the building of ‘satellite’ schools is a way of expanding selective schools through the ‘backdoor’.
Comprehensive Future’s chair, Dr Nuala Burgess, said, “Selective schools are using a loophole to create legally dubious new schools. The Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys satellite will bear the same name as the main school, despite being located in Sevenoaks. It’s ridiculous. No one will be hoodwinked into believing these two schools are in fact one.
“Kent County Council are determined to expand their selective schools, despite all the evidence grammar schools do nothing more than attain the results you would expect if you select for high attainment. Instead of spending Kent taxpayers money on a new selective school, councillors should be investing in the kind of inclusive schools attended by the majority of England’s school children. We wonder why Kent is so attached to grammar schools. Kent’s GCSE results are far from spectacular, they are around the national average. In other words, grammar schools are doing nothing to improve academic attainment.”
A further ‘satellite’ grammar school is being planned near Herne Bay, on the Kent coast. Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Faversham and Barton Court school in Canterbury have both submitted proposals, competing to win funding through the £50 million a year Selective School Expansion Fund. The DfE will soon reveal whether the expansion will get the go-ahead.
Dr Nuala Burgess said, “Last year saw a noticeable increase in the number of applications to build grammar schools ‘satellites’. We are aware of three ‘satellite’ proposals in Kent’s school place planning document, with Medway council also seeking to build a grammar school using this dubious route.
“Operating a school which comprises two separate buildings miles apart, is beset with problems. Within two years of opening, the Weald of Kent satellite now operates effectively as a stand-alone school – pupils are no longer being ferried between sites and the idea that this could ever work was ludicrous.
“Dressing pupils in the same uniform and using the same names for school houses is merely paying lip service to the idea that one single school is operating. Gestures like this cannot camouflage the fact that two separate schools are in operation. What is there to stop any grammar school from creating a whole chain of satellites stretching from Northumberland to Land’s End?”
“Comprehensive Future feels the legality of the creation of grammar schools through the ‘backdoor’ should be challenged and we are exploring our options. We feel very strongly that it is a criminal waste of precious education funds to build a new selective school. All the evidence shows that the vast majority of pupils attain better GCSE results in areas without grammar schools, and far better social cohesion too. It is baffling that counties like Kent should persist with a system of schooling which most counties turned their backs some 50 years ago. Selective education and the 11-plus, like rickets and corporal punishment, are relics of a childhood history no reasonable adult should want to impose on young people today.”