Grammar school: Kent County Council backs expansion plan


Critics say selective schools actually reduce parental choice

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Kent County Council has voted to allow a grammar school to expand onto a new site.

The decision is likely to lead to the first major expansion of a grammar school in England for half a century.

The law in England forbids the opening of any new grammar schools, but recent changes allow them - and other popular schools - to expand.

Critics accuse the government of "expanding selection by the back door".

England has 164 grammar schools and there are 68 in Northern Ireland.

Academic selection and grammar schools were abolished in most areas of England in the 1960s and 70s.

But some areas retained them - including Buckinghamshire, Kent and Trafford. In other areas, there are individual grammar schools. Children have to pass the 11-plus exam to get in.

In 1998, Labour banned the opening of any new grammar schools, but recent changes to the Admissions Code - the rules schools have to follow when allocating places - allow oversubscribed schools to expand beyond their boundaries.

'Parental demand'

In Kent, parents in the Sevenoaks area set up an online petition to campaign for such an expansion, arguing that this was the only part of the county without a grammar school.


Grammar schools in England are small in number but they inspire a lot of passion, and a decision by Kent to allow this kind of expansion could be a turning point.

It will also reignite a fierce debate.

Opponents say they divide children in to "sheep and goats" at 11 through the 11-plus exam, which they have to pass to get a place, and that schools around them suffer. Supporters say they are beacons of excellence which help children achieve their potential - and that academically bright pupils are best taught together.

The issue is politically sensitive too.

Labour opposes academic selection but did not abolish grammar schools while in government. Instead it said the issue should be decided by ballots of local parents - but the process was involved and expensive and only one case was brought, which did not succeed.

In 2007, David Cameron risked a backbench rebellion when he dropped the party's pledge to build more grammar schools as he sought to modernise the party.

Now the way is becoming more open for grammars to expand. Some say Education Secretary Michael Gove has produced an "elegant political solution", but critics call it a "backdoor expansion".

New grammar school battles

They say more than 1,100 pupils who have passed the 11-plus have to travel for an hour to Tunbridge Wells to their nearest grammar school.

Now Kent County Council has voted to press ahead with plans to set up a "satellite school" in Sevenoaks linked to existing grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

The new "satellite school" would take in 120 pupils in a year.

The National Grammar School Association says many other grammars would like to expand. Jennie Varley, vice chairman of the group said: "This is excellent news.

"It's what the parents in Sevenoaks wanted and they put together a great campaign. This may now encourage other grammar schools to do the same."

'Back door'

Labour's education spokesman Stephen Twigg has accused the government of "sneaking in changes" and "expanding selection by the back door".

"We should not divide children at 11," he told MPs earlier this year.

A Department for Education spokesman said on Thursday: "The overriding objective of this government's reforms is to increase the supply of good school places so parents have real choice.

"That includes making it easier for good schools - grammar or otherwise - to increase their published admission number.

"Legislation prohibits the establishment of new grammar schools, and ministers have been clear that that will not change."

Margaret Tulloch, from the Comprehensive Future campaign group, said grammar schools widened the gap between rich and poor.

"We want to see not grammar schools abolished, but selection abolished. We don't want the 11-plus; we don't want children facing this barrier, this test at 11, which rejects most children, especially poor children and children with special needs," she said.

"I'm very concerned about what is happening. This is the thin end of the wedge."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    What happens now, is that the education of most children is disrupted by the few children in every class who have no intention of learning, and their refusal to allow anyone else to learn either. At least Grammar or selective schools can screen these out.
    Getting rid of grammar schools did as you say bring everything DOWN, we need to improve the education of our children!

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    Grammar shcools themselves are not bad, it's that the system which they belonged to reeks of class prejudices. (Those at the top of the heap will not doubt disagree).

    Streaming kids at 11 is wrong. Children should never be discounted and marginalised on a single bad exam - they should be encouraged to improve after a poor performance and that requires a level playing field at every level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    Grammar or Comprehensive? State education is not 'free'. Everyone pays, in one way or another through direct or indirect taxes. Private or faith schools have huge charitable tax exempt status!

    There are fundamental basics that UK population must fight to retain, maintain, support against privatisation dogma that infests this ConDem Government - especially the NHS, police and armed forces.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    Of course Mr Gove could actually start implementing that oft floated notion of reintroducing discipline into schools - I mean, all of them?

    He is in power after all, or would that conflict with the localisation 'initaiatives' and represent central government interference like errm
    ramming through dubious NHS policy or telling folk to stock up on fuel in a private company dispute.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    What about children whose "special need" is being brighter than average? They are usually left to feel bored in lessons, to be held back, and to face torment by their peers who call them a boffin, bully them and make life a misery. Give everyone the education that fits them, and stop pretending that everyone has the same ability and should be treated the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    286.Count Otto von Krappenhausen
    "I moved schools... then took the 13+ which I passed and went to the local Grammar School"

    There must be a few other kids who slip through the grammar school net in similar ways. Perhaps in a new system, borderline pass/fail candidates could get access to e.g. a summer school scheme for another chance at a new entrance exam at ages 12, 13 and 14 ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    As well as the academia there is a social aspect to grammar too. As someone who attended grammar and comp I was socially accepted during my time in Grammar but for the one year I was in comp I was constantly bullied. Creating a two tier system allows those who are gifted academically to gain additional support regardless of social class. It should never be a race to the bottom just to be equal

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    290. PersonallyResponsible

    why would it need one to one education ? i agree some people work better on a one to one format and for that reason alone should have their education promoted by such a way. But some people work better in groups some at different parts of the day morning or night. Some work better by themselves. The education system needs an overhaul based on personal style.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    i don't think schools with selection would be any better than others. They pick the easiest pupils from already wealthy families who can support them. Which I think is just cheating. Obviously those people who think they've done well will want to keep others in their place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    It's also known a number of 'successful' Comps aren't putting children in for GCSE's unless they're a completely 'safe bet' to pass due to over-concern with maintaining their status in the league tables.

    I say this because my estimated grades were terrible, yet I ended up with 10 'O' levels, 3 good 'A' levels & a degree from a good University; because I was given the benefit of the doubt at 16.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    It seems that the tide is turning. Parents want choice for their children and I hope the government are starting to realise that the current system needs to be changed. Selection is the only way that poor but bright children can get the best chance of a good academic education. It also means that children with better practical skills can be catered for by following the apprenticeship route.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    There is no ideological justification for a Conservative government not allowing parents in ALL parts of England to vote on whether they want grammar schools in their area. There is huge support amongst parents in areas that do have them and it is very unfair for parents in other parts of the country to be deprived of the chance to do what is right for their children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    284. YeOldHammer

    True. That is the ideal. But it would need one to one education. This is not something that the education system can afford and it is certainly one that a lot of parents of failing pupils, feel is their responsibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    Copy whatever the Germans do but let them do it - we might stand a chance then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    After reading these posts, I can see there is a lack of awareness of issues that many children go through whilst trying to gain an education.
    And no consideration of what happens when these children have their own children.

    I would encourage people to try to be less judgemental. How can you think about homework when you don't even know if you're eating tonight?

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    Seems to me that some people are missing the point here. Schools like business need to be competitive to attract students. The education in Kent is excellent becuse of the diversity created by the system. Non-grammar schools in the county know they have to up their game or they become "sink schools"

    And to the many here that keep harking back to the 60's & 70's, your comments are irrelevant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    I failed my 11+ owing to a very poor elementary school and personal jealousy from the Head against my parents.
    I moved schools and was able to overcome the lack of grounding I had received and then took the 13+ which I passed and went to the local Grammar School
    The 11+ is a snapshot of what a child is like on a particular day so what chance is there for someone on a "bad day" or a late developer?

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    I agree. One size does not fit all. We should be like the German system. Select the most academically able for the grammars, then give the others the chance of a more middle of the range curriculum or a technical school with English, maths, science up to 14, with the chance of transferring later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    Grammer schools or comprehensive it makes little difference, the problem with education stems from prehistoric ideas that every child at a certain age must progress through the same standardised tests that solely promote one way of learning. If education was based on and around the child rather than age groups and attaining an understanding by age X, education might actually get somewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    "...abolishing Grammar Schools originally came from Labour, however it was really the Tories who took that idea & positively sprinted with it..."


    They took the idea of all ordinary folks kids going to the same schools. The bit they left out was that all those schools should be as good as the former grammars.

    So it was just another spending cut, where it did untold harm.


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