Grammar school: Kent County Council backs expansion plan
Kent County Council has voted to allow a grammar school to expand onto a new site.
The decision is likely to lead to the first major expansion of a grammar school in England for half a century.
The law in England forbids the opening of any new grammar schools, but recent changes allow them - and other popular schools - to expand.
Critics accuse the government of "expanding selection by the back door".
England has 164 grammar schools and there are 68 in Northern Ireland.
Academic selection and grammar schools were abolished in most areas of England in the 1960s and 70s.
But some areas retained them - including Buckinghamshire, Kent and Trafford. In other areas, there are individual grammar schools. Children have to pass the 11-plus exam to get in.
In 1998, Labour banned the opening of any new grammar schools, but recent changes to the Admissions Code - the rules schools have to follow when allocating places - allow oversubscribed schools to expand beyond their boundaries.'Parental demand'
In Kent, parents in the Sevenoaks area set up an online petition to campaign for such an expansion, arguing that this was the only part of the county without a grammar school.
Grammar schools in England are small in number but they inspire a lot of passion, and a decision by Kent to allow this kind of expansion could be a turning point.
It will also reignite a fierce debate.
Opponents say they divide children in to "sheep and goats" at 11 through the 11-plus exam, which they have to pass to get a place, and that schools around them suffer. Supporters say they are beacons of excellence which help children achieve their potential - and that academically bright pupils are best taught together.
The issue is politically sensitive too.
Labour opposes academic selection but did not abolish grammar schools while in government. Instead it said the issue should be decided by ballots of local parents - but the process was involved and expensive and only one case was brought, which did not succeed.
In 2007, David Cameron risked a backbench rebellion when he dropped the party's pledge to build more grammar schools as he sought to modernise the party.
Now the way is becoming more open for grammars to expand. Some say Education Secretary Michael Gove has produced an "elegant political solution", but critics call it a "backdoor expansion".
They say more than 1,100 pupils who have passed the 11-plus have to travel for an hour to Tunbridge Wells to their nearest grammar school.
Now Kent County Council has voted to press ahead with plans to set up a "satellite school" in Sevenoaks linked to existing grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.
The new "satellite school" would take in 120 pupils in a year.
The National Grammar School Association says many other grammars would like to expand. Jennie Varley, vice chairman of the group said: "This is excellent news.
"It's what the parents in Sevenoaks wanted and they put together a great campaign. This may now encourage other grammar schools to do the same."'Back door'
Labour's education spokesman Stephen Twigg has accused the government of "sneaking in changes" and "expanding selection by the back door".
"We should not divide children at 11," he told MPs earlier this year.
A Department for Education spokesman said on Thursday: "The overriding objective of this government's reforms is to increase the supply of good school places so parents have real choice.
"That includes making it easier for good schools - grammar or otherwise - to increase their published admission number.
"Legislation prohibits the establishment of new grammar schools, and ministers have been clear that that will not change."
Margaret Tulloch, from the Comprehensive Future campaign group, said grammar schools widened the gap between rich and poor.
"We want to see not grammar schools abolished, but selection abolished. We don't want the 11-plus; we don't want children facing this barrier, this test at 11, which rejects most children, especially poor children and children with special needs," she said.
"I'm very concerned about what is happening. This is the thin end of the wedge."