The new grammar school annexe for girls in Sevenoaks opened to its first pupils today.
The 114 girls have enrolled at the Weald of Kent Grammar School and were welcomed by Headteacher Mrs Maureen Johnson on Thursday at the school’s main site in Tonbridge, where another 185 Year 7 student have also enrolled.
The annexe – the first grammar school provision in the country for half a century – was initiated by a petition signed in 2012 by more than 2,500 people and tackles that anomaly that Sevenoaks was the only sizeable town in Kent without grammar school provision.
KCC agreed with the parents and set out is ambition to deliver an annexe, as a completely new stand-alone grammar school was not allowed by law. The plan still needed government approval, which was eventually achieved when the then Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, approved the scheme.
Building work on the £16 million facility began just over a year ago and the keys were handed over to the school in late August.
Its teaching facilities include specialist science, art & design spaces, drama & dance spaces, plus a new performance hall, a lecture theatre, large library and dining spaces.
The annexe also has the benefit of the existing all-weather sports pitch together with completely renovated sports hall, which was formerly the Wildernesse Sports Centre. The Weald of Kent Grammar School will be offering these facilities for hire to the community to use out of school hours.
Both the Trinity School, which opened in its new building in September 2016, and Weald of Kent Grammar School are working together on this shared site
The annexe hosted the media on Thursday, when they were able to view the facilities and interview the head, chairman of governors David Bower and KCC Cabinet Member for Education Roger Gough.
Mr Gough said: “This is one of the few significant towns in Kent that didn’t have, until now, grammar school provision where, nonetheless , a lot of the children do pass the Kent Test. That was an anomaly and we are pleased to see that rectified.
“This is a fantastic facility, provided for a school with a superb reputation for educating its pupils and being able to see such a lot of hard work come to fruition is very rewarding.”
Mrs Johnson explained how the annexe would work alongside the main site in Tonbridge: “Every other Thursday the new pupils will be coming to Tonbridge where they will work with our other Year 7 pupils and with the older students.
“We felt, because a lot of the children at our existing site come from Sevenoaks already that we were well-placed to offer places to more children.”
The school will expand annually as it takes on new Year 7 intakes each September.
Mr Bower said: “It is going to be a an unusual challenge in the early days because there will be only just over 100 girls here, a school built for substantially more than that, but that’s our job and we have to make sure they do not miss out on anything that is happening at our Tonbridge site.”
KCC Leader Paul Carter said the council was still hoping to find a sponsor school for a similar annexe for boys on the same site. As the Weald of Kent Grammar is for girls only, the annexe had to meet the same criteria.
He said the council’s aim was to increase the provision of grammar school places in line with the increased demand for secondary school place generally. And the over-riding ambition was to provide the best education possible for all Kent’s pupils, regardless of their abilities and aptitudes.