Grammar School Response from Secretary of State for Education

The Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP has responded to the letter from Michael Fallon MP which was urging speedy decision in relation to the provision of a grammar school in Sevenoaks.

Responding to Michael’s letter, Mr. Gove said:  “I understand the difficulty pupils and families face in securing a suitable school place, and the distance many have to travel. Primary legislation prohibits the introduction of new selective schools and we must judge the proposals carefully to test whether they represent new schools or expansions.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) is assessing the proposals and will present its findings to ministers shortly. We will notify each school in writing as soon as a decision has been reached.  In reaching our decision, we will consider all the evidence that has been presented through the process and in correspondence with each academy trust.”

Commenting on his reply, Mr. Fallon said:  “I am continuing to pursue this at every opportunity.  There is no indication at the moment of when a decision will be announced, but I am urging all parties to a conclusion as soon as possible for the sake of our young students in Sevenoaks.”

Letter from Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP urgently seeking a swift decision for Sevenoaks

7th October 2013

Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
Secretary of State for Education

Dear Secretary of State

I write in relation to your pending decision regarding the proposals for a grammar school in my Sevenoaks constituency currently submitted, from the Valley Invicta Academy Trust and from the Weald of Kent Grammar Academy Trust.

Sevenoaks is the only major town in Kent without a grammar school. This is a long running grievance amongst the Sevenoaks parents and pupils. It means that, despite living in a county that has grammar schools, Sevenoaks children not only find it harder to secure a place but, if they do, often have to travel considerable distances to take it up. Kent County Council’s figures from 2009 show that 91 out of 253 pupils who passed the 11+ in the Sevenoaks areas did not get any of their four preferences on National Offer Day. These children will have been given an alternative offer but typically one many miles away from their homes. Whilst many children do get their first choices on appeal, this is only often after many stressful months of challenges to the system.

Recent figures from Kent County Council show that 1,151 students who live in south Sevenoaks, travel to selective schools in Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells or further afield, as there is no selective provision in Sevenoaks. Moreover, as the number of Year 7 pupils increase in these schools, the application of the distance criteria through the admissions process will result in selective provision becoming increasingly less accessible for Sevenoaks south students.

Non-selective schools are, thanks to your funding, able to expand to meet increased demand. It cannot be fair that those choosing selective schools are discriminated against because the system cannot similarly accommodate them.

It is clear to me that the long-term solution is to provide more grammar school places locally to meet this demand. As nearby grammar schools are already full, the obvious solution is to provide new places in Sevenoaks itself.

I urge you to make a speedy decision.

Latest Fall in Unemployment Figures

Sevenoaks MP and Business Minister Michael Fallon welcomed the ONS figures which were published today showing unemployment has continued to fall in the UK.

The number of unemployed claimants in the Sevenoaks constituency in September 2013 was 750.  This figure is 236 lower than in September 2012 and 47 lower than in August 2013.  The number of claimants up to the age of 24 was 205 in September 2013, 100 lower than in September 2012.

Michael said: “This is welcome news and further evidence that the economic recovery is taking shape.  Government policies which have allowed for the creation of 1.4m private sector jobs and reforms to welfare which makes work pay are clearly taking hold.  These latest statistics are a credit to British businesses, especially in Sevenoaks and Swanley, for creating those jobs which are driving UK growth upwards and making our economy competitive again.”

Supporting Local SMEs at the Sevenoaks Business Show

Opening the Sevenoaks Business Show
Opening the Sevenoaks Business Show

Michael opened the Business Show which was hosted by Sevenoaks Town Partnership in association with Sevenoaks Town Council.  In his speech he said:

“Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a really important role in getting the UK back onto a solid economic foundation.  They account for 49% of private sector turnover, employ close to 60% of the UK workforce and represent over 90% of UK businesses.

We want to spread the message that Sevenoaks is open for business; from January to August this year there were 65 business start-ups here and there are currently 6,000 businesses registered for VAT or PAYE.”

Speaking to the business exhibitors Michael added: “Current Government initiatives include several measures of support for SMEs:

  • From April 2014 every business and charity in the UK will be given a £2,000 allowance towards their National Insurance Contributions bill, benefitting 1.25 million businesses;
  • There will also be a further cut in Corporation Tax in 2014 to 20 per cent, making the UK tax system one of the most competitive in the world;
  • The 2012 Funding for Lending Scheme has now been now extended and skewed towards SME lending.

“In addition, Sevenoaks Town Council with the Sevenoaks Town Partnership is actively supporting local businesses with a number of splendid initiatives and this 4th Business Show has now become fixed event in the calendar.  The Government supports you, Sevenoaks Town Council supports you and we all salute you!”

Rockdale House – Official Opening

Opening Rockdale House
Opening Rockdale House

Over 100 residents, staff, friends, volunteers, patrons, trustees and many who had worked on this project attended the official opening of Rockdale House.  Sam Footitt, Chairman of the Appeal Board, set the scene by explaining the history and background to the new development and thanking all who had been involved with the design and build of this new residential home.  Fundraising had started over 13 years ago and over £1.75m had been raised through the public appeal.  Before performing the official opening Michael said:

“Rockdale Housing Association has a fantastic story.  Set up 65 years ago it has continuously provided housing and care for older people in Sevenoaks and this new project shows the affection in which Rockdale is held. It must be an obligation as individuals, families and the community to help provide such resources for future generations and personally I am extremely proud to represent a town which cares so much.

“Sam Footitt had led the Appeal Board tirelessly and he and his colleagues should be congratulated for all their considerable efforts over the years, started well before The Big Society was ever mentioned, which have culminated in this magnificent building which will now accommodate 48 residents.

“I am delighted, as a Patron of the Rockdale Appeal, to open this brand new residential home.”

Sevenoaks MP Welcomes The Government’s Rail Fares Cap

Michael  has welcomed the Government’s announcement that will see train operators’ ability to increase fares capped at two per cent.

Backing the cap, Mr. Fallon said:

“Travel costs are one of the biggest outgoings for hardworking families in Sevenoaks and Swanley.  This government is introducing a series of measures to help families with the everyday cost of living.  We’ve already frozen fuel duty and council tax.

“The two per cent cap will keep down fare increases and help prevent the large rises commuters have seen in the past”.

UK Power Networks – Sundridge Visit

Michael Fallon visiting Sundridge Training Centre 2Michael visited a UK Power Networks training centre near Sevenoaks recently.  He was there to learn about the company from Murdo Allan, director of health, safety, sustainability and technical training, as well as hear about the company’s business plan for 2015 to 2023.

Other senior managers were on hand during the hour-long guided tour, showing Mr Fallon the variety of the 120 courses available at the centre, which plays an important part in training 60 apprentices each year how to maintain and repair underground cables and overhead lines.

As Minister of State in the Departments of Energy & Climate Change as well as Business, Innovation & Skills Michael, who has responsibility for security of electricity supply as well as smart grids, said: “It has been very interesting to learn more about UK Power Networks’ training centre at Sundridge and the vital work it does for my Sevenoaks constituents and the wider community.

“Training and safety are obviously top priorities for the company, helping to fill important roles within the organisation for the benefit of customers.

“Having met and spoken with apprentices, I am pleased to see that a leading energy company is taking training seriously, creating a large number of new apprenticeships each year, and investing in the future.”

Vintage Bus in Sevenoaks Town

vintage busThe distinctive vintage double-decker red bus which has been seen around Sevenoaks all through the summer had a new conductor on board last week.  Michael met passengers alighting at Knole and dropping off at the main points of the journey around the town.  He met visitors who were from far and near – all said how much they appreciated and enjoyed the service.  Some young children were having an adventure as they had never been on a double-decker before whereas others were just appreciating a trip from Knole House into town to do a little shopping and visit the Food Fair on the Vine before returning home.

The bus, which had been sponsored by Sevenoaks Town Partnership with assistance from Go Coach, Knole, Sevenoaks Town Council, Sevenoaks District Council, Sencio, Stag and all the volunteer bus conductors  will not run after the end of September but all involved are hoping that it will return in the spring 2014.

New Community Village Shop and Post Office for Ide Hill

Community shop opening with (l to r) Richard French, Andy Edmonds and Michael
Community shop opening with (l to r) Richard French, Andy Edmonds and Michael

Ide Hill Post Office, which had been temporarily closed for more than two years, had an official opening ceremony on Friday 27 September, at its new location – the newly-built Ide Hill Community Shop, next to the Village Hall.

Michael cut the ribbon to open the new Community Shop and Post Office at 8pm. This was followed by a big village celebration, hosted by The Chairman of the Ide Hill Community Shop Community Interest Company, Andy Edmonds, and the new Subpostmaster Richard French, to thank everyone who had helped with the shop and Post Office project.

Ide Hill Post Office was forced to close temporarily in July 2011 due to the withdrawal of the old premises for Post Office use. From 28 September it is operating from the new Ide Hill Community Shop. Until recently the shop had been run from a shipping container organised by the Ide Hill Community Shop Community Interest Company. The group then rallied villagers and local businesses to raise funds for more suitable premises, which could also accommodate a Post Office.

Mr Fallon said: “Post Offices are vital to the local community and I am so pleased that Ide Hill once again has a Post Office. I am delighted to be re-opening this branch at a wonderful new location. The new Village Shop has been funded by villagers and businesses; this shows just what is possible when a community puts its mind to a project. Everyone involved should be congratulated.

“The Post Office is now open for longer hours than before and is conveniently open seven days a week. The branch will be open for the same number of hours as the Village Shop.”

The branch is now one of the Post Office’s modern new-style open-plan “local” branches. Post Office Local is a new concept for delivering Post Office services from an open plan counter with Post Office products and services available alongside retail transactions during shop opening hours, allowing Post Office services to be available for longer offering greater convenience to customers.

The new opening hours are Monday to Friday: 08:30 – 16.30; Saturday: 08.30 – 14.30; Sunday: 08.30 – 12.30.

 Ide Hill Community Shop Volunteers
Ide Hill Community Shop Volunteers

Subpostmaster Richard French said: “This is a very proud day for myself and the residents of Ide Hill, who have worked extremely hard to fundraise to make a dream of a village shop and a Post Office in a wonderful new building become a reality. This fabulous shop and Post Office will mean that residents will have essential services right on their doorstep.

“There has been a terrific Community Interest Committee, including our superb Chairman, Andrew Edmonds, which masterminded plans for the shop. Our plans would have amounted to nothing without the generosity and support of villagers from Ide Hill

Amherst School – Refurbished Swimming Pool

Opening the refurbished swimming pool
Opening the refurbished swimming pool
Michael with Derry Wiltshire, Headteacher
Michael with Derry Wiltshire, Headteacher

Michael opened the newly refurbished swimming pool at Amherst School today.  Funds had been raised by parents, staff and Sport England.  The Headmaster, Mr Derry Wiltshire officially thanked School Secretary, Mrs Jane Parish, who had worked extremely hard to co-ordinate the whole team effort and secure the funding for an all-year activity for the whole school.  Congratulations go to all involved.