Published: 10:29, 29 September 2021
| Updated: 14:34, 08 October 2021
Parents are planning to fight a school's closure and have described their outrage and shock at the situation.
High Weald Academy, in Cranbrook, is to shut at the end of this academic year following a decision made by the Secretary of State for Education, after consistently poor Ofsted reports and low pupil numbers.
Parents of pupils blasted the way the announcement was made as well as the short timespan they have to raise their objections and find new school places for their children, during a Staplehurst Parish Council meeting last night.
One father said his son was now questioning what have the "students done wrong for them to close the school", while a mum admitted her daughter was asking whether teachers would leave them during the remaining academic year.
Another said: "We have to fight this."
Leigh Academies Trust, which took over running the school this September after merging with Brook Learning Trust, have offered all pupils in Year 7 to 10 places at one of their other academies – Mascalls, in Paddock Wood.
However, parents have less than a month, until October 22, to accept this offer or find somewhere else for their child to go.
They heard of the closure for the first time on Monday afternoon, with parents saying they should have been consulted before.
It was also revealed yesterday that Year 10 pupils would only be taught at High Weald Academy until the end of this December and would then be transferred to Mascalls in January, if they accepted the place.
High Weald Academy currently has 276 pupils, whereas Mascalls, according to the Ofsted website, has 1,216, with a capacity of 1,450.
LAT has launched a "listening exercise", which, according to a letter sent to parents from school principal Nigel Jones is about the Department for Education "receiving feedback from all stakeholders" about the how the school will close.
He stresses in his letter that "the Minister of State has decided that HWA will close for Year 10 at end of Term 2, 2021, and for all pupils by end Term 6, 2022".
A document outlining details of the closure says that Nadhim Zahawi, the Secretary of State for Education, "will consider the outcome of the listening period before giving permission for the trust to announce details of the closure".
Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant, who strongly opposes the closure, says the decision is "subject to a listening period of one month" and has urged people to voice their objections in the consultation.
However, the listening period closes on October 25 and some were questioning if the closure was already a done deal.
One mum said at the meeting: "They've already organised a website to buy new [Mascalls] uniforms. How can that be? Are we fighting a losing battle?"
LAT said the Secretary of State for Education had taken the decision to proceed to close the school by mutual agreement with LAT.
The trust said the academy had struggled with low Ofsted ratings and "educational outcomes".
It added that "very low pupil numbers and the financial pressures that brings have made it challenging to turn the school around".
High Weald Academy has received three requires improvement ratings from Osted since 2014, the most recent in 2019.
However, a monitoring inspection in July 2021 found that leaders had "worked with determination to bring about improvements".
Pupil behaviour had improved and subject leaders reviewed the content of their courses. Further action still needed to be taken when it came to teaching however.
A parent picked up on this, saying: "It wasn't like it was regressing, it was improving."
In 2019, the academy opened a new building, costing millions of pounds, in the hope that modern classrooms would attract more pupils.
One mum said the last 18 months had been hell for pupils and they had just returned to "almost normal" at school, to "have the rug pulled out from under them with almost no warning."
Staplehurst Parish Council chairman, Cllr Paddy Riordan, said the authority was "appalled" by the decision and it left a "geographical hole".
He said the council are "certainly going to fight it" and urged parents to contact Helen Grant and respond to the consultation.
"Explain to them you think the consultation is unfair and you haven't been given enough time," he said.
Before the meeting, Kent Online spoke to two High Weald Academy parents about the uncertainty they were now facing.
Anna Fisk says she and her son Phoenix, a Year 10 student at High Weald Academy who has autism, are both "devastated" by the news.
On finding out the news over email on Monday afternoon, Miss Fisk said: "I was instantly furious, because of how much investment we have all put into supporting High Weald.
'I am very sad because we love High Weald, my son is happy here, he feels loved and supported.'
"Our children have been neglected in this process and thrown under the bus when they could have done this over the summer and pupils start somewhere new in September.
"We chose High Weald because it's a small community school and that's what our children need because they come from small communities.
"I met a mum outside the shop this morning and she was in tears.
"I am very sad because we love High Weald, my son is happy here, he feels loved and supported.
"Everybody I have spoken to is that real sharp mix of sad and angry."
Ms Fisk says she does not know which school her son will go to once he can no longer be taught at High Weald after December.
The trust says it is consulting on plans to turn the school site into a campus for pupils aged 11-18 with autism from September 1 2022.
The site would be part of Snowfields Academy in Bearsted.
However, Miss Fisk says she has not yet heard if her son can attend this campus, and does not want him to go to Mascalls, due to its size, and the fact he would have to get a train there.
She added: "He has no concept of danger and getting on public transport is a risk."
She finished: "The next six months are going to be hell on legs."
Dan Atkins says his son, also in Year 10, has been "thriving" since he joined High Weald Academy three years ago.
The family have spent the last 18 months trying to move closer to the school, and successfully relocated to Hawkhurst five weeks ago, just a ten minute walk from the academy.
They do not want him to attend Mascalls and have spent the day ringing up other schools about places.
"This is his second secondary school and he has come on amazingly," Mr Atkins said.
Mr Atkins' son loves animals and one of the reasons he wanted to attend High Weald was because of their small farm on site.
Mr Atkins says they thought their son was dyslexic until he took a test organised by High Weald Academy, where he scored 98% in an English fluency test.
"It's very concerning for us as parents, this is a crucial time, in two years he's doing his GCSE's, this is going to throw a spanner in the works and could have a knock on effect."
Mr Jones, in a letter to parents said that any parents who did not want their child to go to Mascalls should follow the advice which will be received in the letter from Kent or East Sussex Councils.
The plans for Year 10s to leave at the end of December would allow students to have the longest possible time to prepare for their GCSE's at Mascalls, he said.
New uniforms will be provided for free for Year 7 to 10 transferring to Mascalls.