Published: 13:15, 11 November 2021
| Updated: 15:19, 11 November 2021
Pupil numbers at a school have more than halved in less than two months after its September closure was announced.
Before the announcement, made in September, 276 pupils were on the roll at the secondary school, which had suffered low student numbers and poor Ofsted reports, but now the number is down to just 128.
This news comes as Leigh Academies Trust (LAT) announced the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, has approved the final plan for the closure.
LAT, which runs the school, had previously stressed that the consultation, which closed on October 25, was not about if the school should close, but how it should happen.
A campaign against the decision is being led by Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant, with attempts to secure a judicial review underway.
In a statement yesterday, LAT said: "In total, 285 responses were received, including 125 from existing parents. The secretary of state did not consider that any new evidence emerged during the listening period which required the closure plan to be changed.
"Since the start of the listening exercise, significant numbers of parents have chosen to find places in other local schools for their children ahead of the published closure dates for each year group.
"This means that just 75 pupils now remain on roll in years 7-10.
"In addition, we are pleased that all 53 year 11 pupils are continuing at HWA for the rest of the academic year to complete their GCSEs before transitioning to another setting in September."
There has been outrage from parents at the handling of the closure, with many saying LAT hasn't given parents enough time to find new suitable places for their children.
'Now is the time to put differences aside...'
Year 10 pupils will leave the academy at the end of this Christmas term, while remaining years will stay until the end of summer term.
LAT has offered Year 7-10 students places at Mascalls Academy in Paddock Wood, another one of its schools, but parents were given less than a month to accept this offer, or find a different solution.
The trust says all "eligible" pupils joining Mascalls will be offered free transport.
All students, whether they're joining Mascalls or another institution, will be offered financial support for school uniform.
LAT says it will ensure the quality of education for the remaining pupils this year is as "positive as possible."
A spokesman said: "To cater best for a much-reduced number of pupils, we have rewritten the timetable as we begin this half-term to ensure every child receives the support they need.
"Our focus is to ensure that year 11s are well-prepared for their forthcoming examinations and that pupils in other year groups are ready for new destinations when the time comes.
"Our dedicated and hard-working staff will continue to strive tirelessly to ensure each child’s journey at HWA ends positively.
"We understand that this has been a challenging period for everyone, but now is the time to put differences aside and come together to ensure that the transition for pupils, staff and the facilities at HWA is as positive as possible.
"We look forward to the rest of the time each child spends at HWA before moving onto their new destinations being as positive and productive as it can be."
"Our dedicated and hard-working staff will continue to strive tirelessly to ensure each child’s journey at HWA ends positively..."
In 2017, the academy was given permission to demolish its humanities, science and art blocks, built in the 1950s, to make way for a new building.
The hope was that modern classrooms would attract more pupils. In 2017, the school only had 400 students, but the scope to teach 1,500. The number then slid down even further.
LAT cites the reasons for the closure as long-term issues with low pupil numbers, resulting in financial difficulties, which contributed to poor education performance.
Peter Read, education advisor and former headteacher at Gravesend Grammar School, has regularly argued that the school not viable, pointing out it had the highest proportion of vacancies in Year Seven of any Kent school last school year, at 59%.
He describes the expenditure on the new buildings in 2017, as now "pointless".