Sevenoaks grammar school future in doubt

Pupils taking exams (generic)
Image caption Kent County Council wants to build an extension to two existing grammar schools

A planned "satellite" grammar school in Sevenoaks could be in doubt after the government said it intended to use the council-owned site for a free school.

In a leaked letter, the Department for Education told Kent County Council the site on Seal Hollow Road was "ideally suited" for the Trinity School.

The council wants to build an extension to two existing grammar schools.

The site is currently occupied by the Knole Academy, which moves out in 2015.

'Parental demand'

In the letter to the council, John Nash, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Schools, wrote: "I am minded to exercise the Secretary of State's powers... to transfer a freehold interest in the site to Trinity School in time for September 2015."

Lord Nash said under the Academies Act 2010 it was "immaterial if there is an intention of the local authority to use the site... for a different school".

He added: "I am persuaded that Trinity School is being driven by parental demand and has the support of the community.

"I believe it will benefit both the parents and pupils of Sevenoaks by improving choice and driving up the quality of education in the area."

The new "satellite schools" are expected to take in 120 pupils and would be linked to grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

Trinity School, a free school in Riverhead, has expressed an interest in moving to the council-owned Wildernesse site when Knole Academy's lease runs out in 2015.

Paul Carter, leader of the county council, said: "I would describe the letter as far from helpful.

'Unclear law'

"We strongly believe there is no need for an additional free school in Sevenoaks. There is a significant demand for grammar school places in West Kent."

He added that the council needed to meet the government "to find a resolution to this conundrum".

Sarah Shilling, of the Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign, said: "I don't think they [the government] really understand the legal situation.

"All the while that site is in educational use, as it will be, the way I understand the law, the government can't touch it."

Mr Carter added: "The law is unclear and we believe that Academies Act only applies to surplus school sites where there is no other provision being considered."

The Academies Act 2010 said it was "immaterial if there is an intention of the local authority to use the site... for a different school".

Matthew Tate, the head teacher of Trinity School, said: "We believe that the site is big enough to share with the grammar school and that would be the best way forward for the children of Sevenoaks."

Following the publication of the letter, the Department for Education said in a statement: "The Trinity Free School is due to open on a temporary site in Sevenoaks this September.

"We are proposing using part of the Wildernesse site as the free school's permanent home.

"However, we are clear that this site is large and there would be plenty of space for both the Free School and another school to operate there."

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