Council refuses to release Kent grammar school expansion documents

A council has now joined the government in refusing to reveal details of plans for the controversial expansion of a grammar school.

Kent County Council (KCC) has refused a freedom of information (FOI) request from campaigners looking to scrutinise the application form from Weald of Kent grammar to open an annexe on a new site nine miles from its current base.

The two separate groups, Kent Education Network and Comprehensive Future, believe the proposal could constitute a new grammar school – which is against the law.

But Schools Week reported last month they dropped potential plans to push for a judicial review after the government refused to release similar information after an FOI request.

The Department for Education (DfE) said it “did not hold the information” when asked for the application form.

Joanne Bartley, a Kent mother who joined other parents to set up the Kent Education Network, said it is “disappointing” that the council are keeping the plans to themselves.

“While parents were consulted in principle on this expansion, they want to know that their needs will be met. We believe that Sevenoaks parents should see the plan in detail and judge whether the annexe will meet their expectations.

“It’s now four months since the government gave the go-ahead, but KCC went on to talk about ‘challenging discussions about areas set out in the current plans’.”

The council admitted that it does hold information relating to transport and staffing at the proposed annexe in Sevenoaks, but refused the latest FOI request on the grounds it would “prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs”.

The FOI response read: “Disclosure would undermine the scope for future free and frank exchanges of views and the scope for public authorities to cooperate together with candour.

“A safe space in order to develop ideas, debate live issues and reach decisions away from external interference and distractions is needed and promotes effective decision making and discharge of the obligations on KCC.”

Ms Bartley said the secrecy surrounding the plans raises suspicions that the legal conditions might make the plan as it stands “impossible to implement” and that there are “serious problems underlying this project”.

But a spokesperson for the council said: “KCC has already provided relevant information in response to requests where it is able to do so.

“It would be unlawful to disclose some of the requested information and some specific information is either incomplete or cannot currently be disclosed where it would be likely to undermine the project.”

The spokesperson added that work is continuing on delivering the approved proposals for the annexe and previous consultations have “indicated high levels of public support for the project.

“Being unable to provide detailed particulars to a campaigning group for debate via the media does not amount to secrecy. Further detail will be provided about transport, staffing and other matters in due course.”

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