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MP Helen Grant considers judicial review to fight closure of High Weald Academy in Cranbrook

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An MP campaigning to save a Kent secondary school from closure has accused it of breaking promises made to students, as she considers fighting for its future in the courts.

Maidstone and the Weald representative Helen Grant is considering a judicial review into the decision to shut the High Weald Academy in Cranbrook at the end of the next academic year, over poor Ofsted performance and falling pupil numbers. Year 10s are set to leave at the end of December.

The High Weald Academy in Angley Road, Cranbrook
The High Weald Academy in Angley Road, Cranbrook

Mrs Grant, who organised a public meeting about the closure at the start of this month, has found three parents willing to be claimants in a possible case to challenge the decision.

But with the campaign unlikely to be able to fund the action, and judicial reviews notoriously expensive, it hinges on whether the solicitors who will fight the case can secure legal aid.

Mrs Grant said: "We will know the outcome very soon."

The non-selective senior school - formerly known as Angley School - is run by the Leigh Academies Trust (LAT).

The shock closure announcement was made on September 27, with LAT saying it was a last resort in response to falling pupil numbers.

Helen Grant MP
Helen Grant MP

The school currently has just 276 of 1,500 places filled.

Year 7 to Year 10s have been offered places at another of LAT’s academies - Mascalls, which is 11 miles away from High Weald Academy in Paddock Wood.

Parents have responded with outrage to the closure and the way it has been handled, also criticising the short amount of time they have - until last Friday - to accept the Mascalls places or find an alternative.

It has subsequently emerged that the trust has plans to sell the land to become a satellite school for Snowfields in Maidstone, which caters for children with special needs.

A statement from LAT at the time said: "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.

The case could go to a judicial review at the High Court. Picture: iStock
The case could go to a judicial review at the High Court. Picture: iStock

"By offering every pupil a place at Mascalls we will also ensure that friendship groups are maintained, therefore reducing any emotional impact on pupils.

"As part of the proposal the trust will provide new uniforms and there will be an offer of free transport for Kent-based pupils to help minimise any disruption or costs to the families affected."

Mrs Grant organised a public meeting at the Vestry Hall in Cranbrook at the start of the month, where speaker after speaker expressed their dismay at the potential loss of the school.

Subsequently a working party of 15 people including educationalists, parents, former pupils, local councillors, volunteers and former members of staff has been established to fight the plans.

Mrs Grant said: "One worrying point that emerged at a meeting of our working group is that the Leigh Academy Trust appears to be back-tracking on a number of offers made to parents to move their children to Mascalls School when the news first broke of the closure."

Helen Grant addressing the public meeting in the Vestry Hall
Helen Grant addressing the public meeting in the Vestry Hall

She said: "I am troubled in particular to hear that promises on transport, subject options and friendship groups are not being kept – placing even more pressure on parents and children at what is already a difficult time transitioning to a new school. "

She gave as an example a parent who pointed out that the trust initially stated that "to help parents avoid additional costs, all pupils, whether moving to Mascalls or another school, will be supported to purchase new uniform."

But when the parent then approached the trust for help she was told she had to request this from the new school, which would then have to send the bill to the LAT. Her child's new school said they had no idea why the family was told this, as it is not something they could do.

One mother warned that, when she enquired about a place for her child at Mascalls at the start of the month, she was told most of the subject options were already full.

Mrs Grant said she would raise her concerns directly with the trust's chief executive officer, Simon Beamish, but said that in the meantime parents should continue to send their "impact statements" setting out how the closure would affect them, to her office, as evidence.

Mascalls Academy where most High Weald students are expected to move
Mascalls Academy where most High Weald students are expected to move

Parents should email helen.grant.mp@parliament.uk.

She said: "The importance of access to a non-selective school for the children of this very rural location cannot be underestimated.

"The distress that is being inflicted upon local families demonstrates the unreasonable and irrational nature of this decision."

You can follow Mrs Grant's campaign on her Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/HelenGrantMP

Richard Taylor is the spokesman for The Leigh Academies Trust. He said: "Around 50% of High Weald students have opted to transfer to Mascalls. The rest have chosen a variety of other schools, to suit their own geography, but I believe Homewood School in Tenterden has been the second most popular choice.

"The situation is settling down now with most of the students having sorted out where they are going to go."

Helen Grant talking to parents and supporters of the school
Helen Grant talking to parents and supporters of the school

Mr Taylor said that although the Snowfields satellite provision would not use the whole of the High Weald site, there were no immediate plans to sell off any of the land.

He said: "I may be that some of the older buildings are demolished and we are in discussion with the parish council to see if the sixth form centre could be refashioned as some kind of community centre."

Mr Taylor said the trust didn't agree with Mrs Grant that it had reneged on any promises.

He said: "Pupils transferring to Mascalls are having their uniform costs met, and I understand that those going to Homewood are also being helped.

"But for those going to schools other than Mascalls, we have no control of the issue. It was a promise made by the Department for Education and that's who parents should apply to."

News from our universities, local primary and secondary schools including Ofsted inspections and league tables can be found here.

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