The announcement from the Government that it was overturning its previous judgement preventing Kent County Council from building a new Grammar School in Sevenoaks under the guise of a link to the Weald of Kent School in Tonbridge demonstrates that Nicky Morgan is no longer following down the same path as Michael Gove. It also shows that our Government is willing to play along with a dishonest fudge rather than confront an issue that should be a matter of strategy and policy. When Labour stopped short of forcing resistant County Councils to close down all Grammar Schools they sowed the seeds of yesterdays announcement, and if they are angry at the Governments decision they need to understand this truth. I write as someone who managed to pass the 11 plus allowing me to begin my secondary education at Waterloo Grammar School, but within the year the Labour Party had announced that all Secondary Modern Schools would close and in Merseyside they were merged with the Grammar Schools. It was disruptive and certainly did not improve the education I and my colleagues received. However it was easy to understand why the change was taking place and most of us accepted that the compromise of educating us in a Comprehensive building but keeping our year groups intact made sense. The opportunity to study new subjects in mixed groups was actually a big bonus. That Kent and certain other Counties have retained their Grammar Schools is a clear failure of an earlier Government educational policy. However that is where we are.
Simply hiding behind a rule that no new Schools could be opened was a poor solution. It is clearly stupid to oblige all students in the newly extended School to travel the 14 mile return trip at least once a week is plainly ridiculous. Equally Paul Carter, the leader of Kent County Council is being completely dishonest when he suggests that the nearest site to Tonbridge for an extension to the Weald of Kent School is Sevenoaks. I have not carried out a detailed survey, but assuming that the annexe was to be no more than 3miles from the parent School which would seem to be a reasonable distance, that gives an area of 28 square miles of the Kent countryside in which to look and secure permission to build. Some of yesterdays decision has been justified on the grounds that such Schools should be opened if there is demand. All of us would want better resources for our own education and that of our children and if that led to some ‘demand’ for 1 to 1 teaching, no one would be surprised. Citing demand alone as a reason for allowing change is no basis for making strategic decisions. I notice that few commentators have so far referred to the other part of that formula, the issue of capacity. It appears that there is plenty of expansion capacity in other Schools in Sevenoaks, some of which may be negatively affected by the new annexe. The tragedy is the impact this decision and indeed the last decade of campaigning has had and will continue to have on the children and parents in the Sevenoaks area. It now appears that children in other parts of the country might also be subject to the same emotional roller coaster as distant annexes are called for. I felt delighted (if somewhat surprised) that I had passed the 11 plus on a personal level. However I recall how upset at least one of my classmates felt when he discovered he had failed. If I could roll back time I would find a way of introducing the Comprehensive system a year earlier. However that is just my story. There are hundreds of others who are going to be impacted by the news from yesterday. Unfortunately neither Nicky Morgan, Paul Carter or many of those on the other side of this debate are really concerned about the lives of the girls who this morning will be waking up hoping that their education will be transformed as a result, nor of those who as a result of this decision will have to face the reality that they feel their education has been limited like my friend Francis.