In 2017 Tonbridge’s Weald of Kent Grammar School opened a £19m “annexe” in Sevenoaks, 10 miles from its main site. New grammar schools are legally forbidden under the 1998 School Standard and Frameworks Act, but Weald of Kent claimed the building, admitting 120 pupils each year, was not a new school but an extension of the existing school. The DfE was shown detailed plans emphasising the integration between the two school sites. Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary at the time, agreed to the building of the “annexe”.

Comprehensive Future said, back in 2017, that the school’s integration plans were, “highly impracticable and unlikely to be sustained over the long term.”  We have now learned that our prediction was right, with many elements of the original plan dropped as the new school year begins.

The school’s original proposal claimed, “all students will enjoy the benefit of at least a half-day a week at the main site” and, “spending time on both sites the Headteacher will unify the staff and student approach to school policy.”  CF has learned that the school has revised its timetable, and Sevenoaks pupils no longer travel to the main school site for lessons. We have also been told by a Kent teacher, “The leadership team will now stop spending one day a week in Sevenoaks, instead one assistant headteacher will be based permanently in Sevenoaks. This is the beginning of a separate leadership team.”

The trust’s business accounts also give up any pretence that the ‘annexe’ is an extension of the main building, they describe the Sevenoaks site as, ‘a growing school.’

Dr Nuala Burgess, CF’s Chair, said, “I am very angry. It is clear the Sevenoaks ‘annexe’ is being run as a completely separate grammar school, which is illegal. We predicted this would happen – it was clear from the beginning that it would prove wholly impractical to run a school on two sites in the way they proposed. Weald of Kent grammar school spent a lot of time producing detailed plans to suggest it was feasible to run as one school. Their plans appear to have been designed to hoodwink the DfE and everybody else into believing their satellite was not a new selective school. They have now abandoned all attempts at pretence. If the original plans submitted for the annexe had shown this current set-up, Comprehensive Future stood a very real chance of winning a judicial review, on the grounds that the satellite was, for all intents and purposes, a new selective school.”

“Any new, standalone, grammar school is illegal, and the Sevenoaks annexe is tantamount to the creation of a new selective school via the backdoor. This has to be a breach of the terms of the funding given for the satellite. I am hopping mad with anyone stupid enough to think this wouldn’t happen, or deceitful enough to know it would and hope no-one would notice.”

“There is failure of duty here, and if action is not taken by the Department of Education, we want to know why. It seems obvious from all of this that bids which come under the Selective School Expansion Fund are not being properly scrutinised for their feasibility. We honestly fear that what has happened with the Sevenoaks annexe will happen with others. Until Sevenoaks has been properly investigated, plans for all new grammar school annexe plans must be put on hold. If not, we can only assume that the surreptitious creation of new grammar schools was always the hoped-for result of the Selective School Expansion Fund”.

The DfE is considering two new bids for ‘annexe’ grammar schools with a decision due this Autumn. Barton Court Grammar School in Canterbury, and Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Faversham have both applied for funding to build ‘annexe’ schools using the £50 million a year Selective School Expansion Fund.

Dr Burgess said, “It’s complete nonsense that a grammar school can build a school size building in a completely different town and claim the building is an integral part of the main school. We call on the Secretary of Education to take a stand and cancel the Selective School Expansion Fund and put an end to the creation of new grammar schools through the backdoor. A new grammar school has been created in Sevenoaks and it is illegal. There is no other way in which the Weald of Kent’s ‘satellite’ may be viewed.

“There is simply no need for selective education in a modern school system, we need to focus on inclusive secondary schools that work for all local children.”

Lucy Powell MP, who was Shadow Secretary of State for Education when the ‘annexe’ school was approved, has also called for an investigation into the Weald of Kent grammar school’s legal status.