On Friday, I was delighted to join parents and pupils to officially open our new grammar school, the Weald of Kent Grammar School Sevenoaks Annexe.
Thanks to all the hard work of the parents, campaigners, district and county councillors, and the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Sevenoaks has finally got the grammar it has been due for nearly a century.
So it’s about time.
Parents in my constituency needed more choice. With substantial pressure on local places causing unnecessary disappointment and stress, they wanted high-quality education to be accessible and affordable for their family.
Pupils in my constituency wanted more time. Travelling up to Dartford or Wilmington or down to Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells every morning and evening is time-consuming. It never made sense that bright minds in Sevenoaks needed to travel miles outside my constituency in order to get the education that’s right for them.
Now the girls attending the new annexe will have more time in the day to pursue hobbies and sports, develop friendships in the local area, and be with their families.
History is being made. It all started in 2011 when a group of parents launched a campaign to get a grammar school to Sevenoaks. They delivered a petition that stunned Kent County Council by achieving thousands of signatures in a matter of days.
The law was stacked against us. But what the opening of the Weald of Kent Grammar School Sevenoaks Annexe demonstrates is the winning power of parents.
With sustained local and national media coverage over many years, we forced the issue onto the agenda and reignited the debate. My constituents now have a proper choice of good local schools. But our work is only half done. There is strong local demand for a boys’ grammar too. That’s the next campaign.
One of my first duties as the newly re-elected MP, having sworn in on the day of the State Opening of Parliament, was to discuss the contents of the Queen’s Speech on BBC South East.
There are many great initiatives in the Queen’s Speech that will benefit our area, including extra investment in our transport, bills that champion equality, and a plan to protect our agricultural industry.
However, as many will have noted, there is one conspicuous exclusion: our election plan to scrap the current ban on building new grammar schools.
Having campaigned for so long for more grammar provision in Sevenoaks, I am disappointed that the current grammar school legislation will continue at least for the next two years. The constitution dictates that we must play the cards the electorate has dealt to us. So, with a minority Government, it is important that we put forward the best deal for Britain. That means amending slightly our manifesto commitments in the national interest to ensure they can be delivered in Parliament.
But rest assured, I remain committed to securing grammar provision here in Sevenoaks for boys, and we can do that without changing the law, by adding a boys’ annexe to the girls’ one at Wildernesse.
There is strong local demand for a boys’ grammar. Sevenoaks is the only area in Kent without a grammar school, and there is substantial pressure on local school places. Parents need more choice, and to travel back and forwards to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells wastes time and money.
Later this year, I will be welcoming a young constituent and his class from Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys to Parliament. I will be delighted to welcome the new class of girls from our Sevenoaks grammar annexe, too, after they start in September.