School closure row as Cranbrook pupils told to go to Paddock Wood

Nusrat Ghani

The High Weald Academy will shut from September 2022 because of poor Ofsted ratings, low pupil numbers and financial pressures.

As reported in the Times, the closure was announced last week, but parents have said they should have been consulted first.

Around 276 pupils are being offered places at Mascalls Academy in Paddock Wood, around 15 miles away.

Leigh Academies Trust [LAT], which runs the school, is offering free uniforms and transport for pupils who transfer, but parents say the school is too far away.

The closure has been agreed by the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi,by mutual agreement with LAT.

Speaking to reporters on behalf of parents who have formed a group to fight the closure, Anna Fisk said she believes her 14-year-old son, who has autism, would not be able to cope.

“A child going to a small village school, they know everybody, and suddenly they go to a school which is five times the size, and you have to start your day at six in the morning to get there.

“Mascalls Academy is between 11 and 15 miles, depending on where you live.

“We’ve had three ‘requires improvement’ reports from Ofsted, which is a concern, but the last Ofsted report gave clear indications improvements are in place.

“We’ve also had an improvement in the results of GCSEs in the last two years. Parents are absolutely heartbroken and agitated and concerned about the way it’s been handled, the lack of consultation.”

The Times reported [September 29] on how the MP for Maidstone and the The Weald, Helen Grant, who represents the area, has opposed the plans to shut the school.

She said: “Pupils will have to travel over 11 miles to get to the nearest secondary school.

“This will mean long bus journeys in the dark winter hours, especially for those who want to take part in extracurricular activities.”

She added that serious questions need to be asked of the Brook Learning Trust, which ran the school previously, and Ofsted, which has ‘presided over the ongoing failure of the school’.

Brook Learning Trust merged with LAT in September.

LAT has since launched a ‘listening exercise’, and according to a letter sent to parents from school principal Nigel Jones, the purpose of this is for the Department for Education to ‘receive feedback from all stakeholders’ about the closure.

He stresses in his letter that ‘the Minister of State has decided that HWA will close for Year 10’.

A statement from LAT said: “Closing a school is always a last resort, and the decision to launch a listening period follows a great deal of consideration about the school’s future by the Department for Education.

“The Secretary of State for Education has taken the decision to proceed to close the school by mutual agreement with LAT.

“We know this will be worrying news for pupils, parents and the wider community but we hope the proposed approach to closure will help minimise the disruption for families.

“LAT is proposing to protect the education of pupils in years 7-10 by offering them a place at the successful Mascalls Academy in Paddock Wood.”  

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