On Thursday morning Nicky Morgan approved plans for the first new grammar school in over 5 decades. This will give the green light for a 450-pupil grammar school in Sevenoaks, Kent to be built.
Weald of Kent School in Tonbridge plans to open a girls’ annexe several miles away from the existing schools campus. This is set to offer a further 450 new places and side stepping the existing ban on opening new grammar schools. The Education Secretary claimed that permission had been given on the grounds that all good schools should be able to expand and this is an expansion of an existing school, with integration between the two sites.
Mrs Morgan stated that “it does not reflect a change in this government’s position on selective schools”. Labour originally passed laws in 1998 banning the creation of new grammar schools, but existing selective/grammar schools are allowed to expand if there is sufficient demand. After the government’s controversial decision to approve Weald of Kent’s expansion it looks set to prompt a series of similar applications for “satellite” developments to existing grammar schools. A previous plan for the extension of the Weald of Kent Grammar School was turned down; due to the fact Ministers were not initially persuaded that it was a satellite of an existing school rather than the creation of a new institution.
Labour has described the decision as a “hugely backward step” claiming that it will not benefit the poorer pupils. Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell dismissed the idea that the ‘satellite school’ in Sevenoaks was an annexe to an existing school and said it would pave the way for many other remaining grammar schools to follow suit. She also dismissed claims that grammar schools open up opportunities for pupils from poorer backgrounds by stating that they are dominated by children of middle class families who can afford to pay to tutor their child through the 11 plus exam.
Campaigners in favour of more grammar schools have argued that scrapping the 11 plus test in most areas of the country has hampered social mobility for bright pupils from poorer backgrounds. Paul Carter, the leader of Tory-controlled Kent County Council said that “the big issue about this decision is that it won’t open up the floodgates. You have to have a grammar school there in the first place to expand. “This is simply the case of if you aren’t able to expand on-site you have to expand elsewhere, and that’s all that occurred with Weald of Kent.”
What do you think? Are grammar schools a good thing? Should grammar schools be restricted? If the 11 plus exam in favour of middle class children who have parents who can afford tutoring? Have your say here…