Croydon parents wanting a grammar school education for their sons or daughters have to send their children to a neighbouring borough. But we recently saw news that the Weald of Kent Grammar School in Tonbridge has been given permission to expand on to a satellite (or annex) site in Sevenoaks. This has opened up the possibility that one of the grammar schools in Bromley or Sutton might open up a similar satellite school here.
At a recent Croydon Council meeting at the Town Hall, Labour’s cabinet member for education, Alisa Flemming, claimed that enough new secondary schools are being created to cater for demand until 2020, thus making the possibility of any grammar annexes being built redundant for the next four years. However, recent reports have suggested that the council’s school expansion plans are already behind track, and population growth is in any case accelerating.
Furthermore, the demand from parents for grammar school places is extremely high and far outstrips supply – for example, Sutton’s grammar schools have 10 applicants for every available place; 30 per cent of these schools’ pupils come from Croydon. With the population going up and housing developments such as Cane Hill being built, demand is only going to increase. The presence of a new grammar school in Croydon would help satisfy this demand and avoid pupils as young as 11 having to travel into other boroughs to get the education their parents want for them.
Personally, I have long believed in having a number of grammar schools. There is a simple reason. In 1987, when I was 11, I was offered a place at Trinity School in Shirley. But even with a partial scholarship, my parents couldn’t afford the fees. So I went to St Olave’s Grammar school in next door Bromley. Without St Olave’s, I probably wouldn’t have made it to Oxford, set up several businesses or become the MP for our area.
I believe that grammar schools offer children from ordinary backgrounds like mine the opportunity to fulfill their potential. They offer a unique, specialist ultra-academic education. This in no way takes away from the excellent work which free schools and academies are already doing in raising standards in Croydon and across the country. Grammar schools are a complement to other types of school – they just have a particular specialism like many schools do.
Recent polling by YouGov found that nationally 53 per cent of the public agree. My own residents’ survey earlier this year found overwhelming public support for a grammar school in Croydon.
I am not advocating a return to the old grammar school and secondary modern system. We have moved beyond that. But I do think that Croydon deserves a grammar school. Bromley and Sutton have them. We should too, and I hope that Labour councillors will get behind the plan.
Wallington County Grammar has already been given permission to open a comprehensive free school in Croydon. While discussing this school with Croydon residents, the WCGS headmaster Jonathan Wilden found a strong desire for grammar school in Croydon. The problem of school places in the borough is a substantial one, and has plagued residents for years.
To this end, I am working with Jonathan to open a satellite grammar school in Croydon. The council has already identified eight potential secondary sites around the borough, including one off the Purley Way in Waddon and one in Coulsdon.
The Government has clearly shown willingness to provide more selective education through the introduction of the satellite school in Kent and I hope they will see the need for a similar solution in Croydon.
Last week, I discussed this matter with the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, to see how we can move this forwards. This is a long-term plan with a complicated process. But I believe it is important for our children’s future and I will pursue it vigorously.
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