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Education Secretary Michael Gove rejects rival bids for a grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks

By Paul Francis
Michael Gove
Michael Gove

The government has rejected a bid to open a grammar school annexe in Kent, saying it would be in breach of the law.

The news will come as a deep disappointment to campaigners who were pressing for the new annexe in Sevenoaks.

It is also a major blow to Kent County Council, who had been hoping the education secretary Michael Gove would sign off on the plan.

Two rival bids had been submitted to the government - one by the Invicta Academy Trust in Maidstone and one by the Weald of Kent Grammar.

KCC was backing the Invicta bid but the DfE says both fell foul of legislation prohibiting new selective schools.

In a statement, the Department for Education said: "The Education Funding Agency has today written to Weald of Kent Academy Trust and Valley Invicta Academy Trust with a decision on their proposals for grammar school provision in Sevenoaks, Kent.

"The assessment is that the proposals do not represent an expansion of the existing schools and therefore cannot be approved."

In a letter to the Invicta Trust outlining the reasons for its decision, the EFA says: "We have not received any evidence that demonstrates Sevenoaks children currently travel to Invicta Grammar School. We would expect expansions to respond to
demand from their existing community."

Invicta Grammar School wrote to parents after students reported being chased
Invicta Grammar School wrote to parents after students reported being chased

The letter also says that the new grammar would have been a mixed school for boys and girls but that did not reflect the admissions arrangements of the exisitng Invicta Grammar School for Girls.

It states that in its view, the Invicta proposal contained various assertions that the desire was to establish a new school.

"KCC has jumped through every hoop set by Gove to open a grammar annexe only for Gove to say no anyway" - campaigner Sarah Shilling

Sarah Shilling, who together with husband Andrew had set up the original petition for extra grammar places in Sevenoaks, tweeted:

"KCC has jumped through every hoop set by Gove to open a grammar annexe only for Gove to say no anyway. Change the law! You're the government!"

In a sign of her anger at the outcome, she said: "Gove will let parents have any school they like, apart from the ones they actually want, like grammar schools."

The Kent bd for a new annexe was being watched closely by supporters and opponents of selection as it would have been a signal of where the government stood on the issue.

Roger Gough, KCC Cabinet member for education and health reform, said: "This decision from the secretary of state is a setback for the council and the people of Kent, who have put their faith in, and strong vocal support behind, a legitimate and democratic process to campaign for selective education in Sevenoaks.

"My personal perspective has always been that such a strong movement of local democracy, through an effective petition and purposeful dialogue with parents, deserved to win support at a national level.

"The council took specialist legal advice on this matter and remain convinced that an annex of an already established grammar school is the right way to respond to this issue.

Cllr Roger Gough, Kent County Council cabinet member for education
Cllr Roger Gough, Kent County Council cabinet member for education

"We will be examining carefully the points raised by the Secretary of State in making his decision, and discussing them with the two schools concerned and looking at what next steps we might take, in the light of his comments.

"While this knockback is particularly disappointing, I will look at what KCC can do to continue arguing this case."

He said the council would investigate how to meet the need for a significant increase in capacity, as the county's secondary-aged population rises.

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