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Cranbrook parents demand new non-selective secondary school to save their children a 10-mile commute

Parents who are fed up with their children having to catch a bus to a school 10 miles away are beefing up their campaign for better provision closer to home.

There is no non-selective secondary school in Cranbrook or its surrounding villages, meaning pupils are forced to travel miles to reach the nearest appropriate school.

Cranbrook has no non-selective school of its own
Cranbrook has no non-selective school of its own

Their choice is Mascalls in Paddock Wood (11.4 miles), Homewood in Tenterden (10 miles), Cornwallis in Maidstone (10.9 miles) or Uplands in Wadhurst (12 miles).

Parents, with the support of the parish council, have formed a campaign group called Support Weald Schooling to lobby for a new non-selective school.

Cranbrook used to have Angley School, later renamed the High Weald Academy, but that was closed by the Leigh Academies Trust in 2022, which changed it to Snowfields, a specialist school for children with learning difficulties.

Claire Mills, from Cranbrook, has two children aged seven and four. She is a member of the Support Weald Schooling steering group.

She said: “In four short years, my daughter will be starting her secondary school journey, something that should be an exciting new chapter for her.

“A place to make new friends, to form a social group and continue to develop into her future self.”

Mum Claire Mills
Mum Claire Mills

“And yet all I can think is how she’ll have to leave the house at 7am and won’t get home until 5pm. How she won’t live near her new friends.

“Also, when will she find time to do her homework, relax with friends or have the energy to do anything other than commute to and from school?

“These are just a few examples of why it’s so important for a new Weald school to be built.

“We all want the best for our children, for the generation that will follow us.

“Why should we compromise, at this vital stage in their lives, with a ‘that’ll do’ approach?

“Having a school closer to home will give her the chance to join the after-school clubs she’s passionate about, see her friends, have time to do her homework and do well.

“Something needs to be done. And it needs to be done now.”

Currently, students spend hours each day travelling on the bus
Currently, students spend hours each day travelling on the bus

Another parent, who asked not to be named, said she was being forced to consider home education for her daughter who is now in Year 6.

She said: “We are at a complete loss as to where she will go next. If the High Weald Academy was still there it would be a no-brainer for us.

“She is an academic child, however too young, we believe, for the grammar system.

“We can't afford independent education. When we have to submit three choices for my daughter, my only option is putting 'home education' on all three choices.”

David Selby is another member of the group. He said: “The Weald is recognised as a ‘cold spot’ by the Department for Education which acknowledges that Cranbrook and its surrounding villages have inadequate non-selective secondary school provision.

“As a result, children across The Weald must travel for up to an hour each way to schools up to 10 miles or more away from their home.

“Every day, busloads of youngsters can be seen heading out to far-flung schools in Tenterden, Wadhurst, Maidstone and Paddock Wood.

“In 2023, there were 525 Year 6 children across The Weald who attended primary schools within seven miles of Cranbrook, so there is clearly a need and demand for a non-selective secondary school closer to home.

“With children’s friendship groups scattered across a large area, rural communities within The Weald lack a sense of community.

“Children needing to board the school bus home are unable to take part in after-school clubs, weakening their social connections and limiting their opportunities to play sport or gain extra-curricular skills.

Homewood School in Tenterden is one of the four distant schools that Cranbrook children are forced to chose
Homewood School in Tenterden is one of the four distant schools that Cranbrook children are forced to chose

“The provision of a new non-selective secondary school is an urgent matter for the whole community, not just primary school-aged children.

“Bringing a new secondary school into the heart of the High Weald will restore a sense of community, help businesses thrive and enable families and friends to live and learn together locally.”

Support Weald Schooling is collecting signatures and pupil data to present to the DfE, hoping to force it to act.

Mr Selby said: “Please sign our petition here and ask your friends and family members to do the same.”

Kim Fletcher is the chairman of Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Parish Council. He said: “There is absolutely no denying the fact the High Weald needs and deserves a new non-selective secondary school.

Cllr Kim Fletcher, chairman of Cranbrook Parish Council
Cllr Kim Fletcher, chairman of Cranbrook Parish Council

“Whether you’re a parent, resident or business owner within the affected areas, I would urge you to show your support and sign the petition.

“These signatures, alongside evidence and data gathered by the Support Weald Schooling campaign group, will bring this new non-selective school closer to home for the benefit of our local children and communities for generations to come.”

Kent County Council, the local education authority, has been asked for a comment.

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