A council has paved the way for the first major expansion of a grammar school in England for half a century after agreeing to look at providing more selective school places.

Members on Kent County Council (KCC) overwhelmingly backed a 2,600-plus name petition demanding a boost in grammar school places in Sevenoaks to meet high demand.

Currently 1,150 locally-based pupils spend up to two hours commuting each day from the town to grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

Under Government legislation, it is not possible to set up a new selective school but a relaxation of rules last year allows existing schools to open an annexe to cater for strong demand for places.

Critics have accused the coalition Government of "sneaky" changes, with shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg claiming in January that selection at age 11 was being expanded through the "back door".

Some campaigners have warned that some institutions could be effectively killed off as nearby grammars grow and attract the brightest pupils. But the Department for Education (DfE) said the over-riding objective of the reforms was to increase the supply of good school places, whether they were selective or otherwise.

A DfE spokesman said it was up to Kent County Council to decide how to meet its legal duty to provide enough school places in the county.

Some 66 councillors voted in favour, three opposed and one abstained following an hour-long meeting at County Hall, Maidstone. The vote means the Kent council will now press ahead with examining plans to set up a satellite school in Sevenoaks linked to existing grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

It is proposed that KCC will create two forms for girls and two for boys who pass the 11-plus, catering for about 120 children.

The move will be looked at closely in other areas that have grammar schools, including Birmingham, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire.