Education Secretary Michael Gove is under growing pressure to give the green light to the first significant expansion of a grammar school in England for 50 years.
The site for an annexe has been found in Sevenoaks, Kent, where staff and parents are anxious to get moving. Kent County Council has already given its approval to Invicta Grammar School in Maidstone to expand in Sevenoaks.
Mr Gove was given the final proposal in June but he has still not signed it off due to unexplained “legal problems”. His department had tried to put one of the parents’ preferred Free Schools on the proposed site. That school will now share the site with the proposed annexe.
Labour introduced legislation abolishing grammar schools in the Seventies and it is illegal to build new ones. However, a school admissions code introduced this year makes it easier for any successful school, grammar, academy or local authority maintained, to expand. Any popular school can expand and, at the same time, Mr Gove stripped parents of the right to object to growth.
The proposed extension in Sevenoaks, the only major town in the county without a grammar school, will cut the cost of transporting 1,200 children 30 miles a day to their nearest selective school. Sarah Shilling, who runs the Sevenoaks Grammar School campaign, said: “When Michael Gove said well performing selective schools could expand in the same way as good non-selective schools, I don’t think he realised what he was saying. The grammar schools in Kent have no room to expand. They have taken as many children as they are capable of and there is nowhere on their land to build extra buildings. The children of Sevenoaks are bused at least 30 miles a day around the county at vast expense as there is no grammar school in the area. Kent County Council and the people of Sevenoaks are desperate for the building to commence because if it is delayed much longer, another year of children will miss out on a local school and be condemned to years of long journeys to other towns. The solution is to build a |new school in Sevenoaks and Invicta Grammar in Maidstone wants to be the parent school.”
The council wants to start building the annexe to open next September. Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon has urged Mr Gove to come to a “speedy decision”. A Department for Education spokesman said: “The department is looking into the complex legal problems and will be coming to a decision as soon as possible.”