Published: 05:00, 08 October 2021
| Updated: 15:41, 08 October 2021
A teaching academy has moved to reassure parents facing the closure of their children's school, that its solution to transfer pupils won't lead to a drop in teaching quality or class sizes increasing.
Last week, Leigh Academies Trust (LAT) announced plansto close High Weald Academy, (HWA) a secondary school in Cranbrook,at the end of the academic year, following low pupil numbers and consistently poor Ofsted reports.
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.
Parents have responded with outrageto the closure and the way it has been handled, also criticising the short amount of time they have, until Friday, October 22, to accept the Mascalls places or find an alternative.
Questions have also been raised about whether Mascalls will cope with the additional pupils, with the trust seeking to reassure parents about teaching quality and new classes.
According to Ofsted, Mascalls currently has 1,216 pupils, with a capacity of 1,450.
High Weald Academy has 276 pupils, however 53 are in Year 11, and have not been offered a place at Mascalls.
Therefore, if all the students at HWA in Years 7 to 10 accepted places, 223 would have transferred over there by September next year.
Based solely on these figures, that would leave Mascalls Academy with 1,439 pupils, and a capacity of just 11.
A LAT document outlining plans for the closure, says: "We are able to establish new capacity at Mascalls over the next year to offer places to all HWA pupils so that the important established relationships between pupils can be maintained."
However, responding to a Facebook post from Kent Online's sister paper, the Kent Messenger, one person said they were concerned additional students will result in a fall in the quality of teaching, and others wanted to know whether the school will take on extra teachers to cope with more pupils.
One person raised whether class sizes will increase.
Cllr Derek Boyle of Paddock Wood Town Council, a former assistant head teacher at Hillview School for Girls, in Tonbridge, questioned the knock-on effect for students in villages around Paddock Wood, and pointed out that hundreds more homes are being built in the area.
Cllr Boyle said: "A couple of years ago, when Tunbridge Wells Borough Council was consulting on the local plan, we had just over a thousand new houses being built in Paddock Wood, and the idea was the secondary age pupils, were going to, according to the local plan, be educated at Mascalls.
"As the children from Cranbrook are coming up, it's going to impact upon the capacity to absorb children, so the catchment area is going to decrease.
"So it may mean that children from local villages like Five Oak Green might not be able to secure places at Mascalls."
He added this could increase pressure on schools in Tonbridge in turn.
MP Helen Grant, who represents Maidstone and the Weald, called for a public meeting to bring together parents and stakeholders who are opposed to the closure of the High Weald Academy.
It takes place today from 10.30am-noon at Cranbrook's Vestry Hall. (Friday)
Mrs Grant believes some form of non-selective secondary school must remain near the town.
She said: "Since the announcement was made last week, I have been inundated with support for the retention of the High Weald Academy in one form or another – it is essential for social mobility within the community and goes to the heart of the principles I hold dear, such as choice, fairness, equality of opportunity, social justice and localism.
"The purpose of Friday’s meeting is to outline and address the events that have led to the decision to close the school, and to formulate a plan to retain a non-selective secondary school for Cranbrook and The Weald of Kent. The meeting is not a debate, it is a chance for parents and stakeholders to share their productive and progressive views and ideas.
"A town as vibrant and as significant as Cranbrook simply cannot go without a non-selective secondary school. As a community, we must work together to find an alternative solution to the closure of this school.’
Responding to concerns, a LAT spokesman said: "Mascalls has the capacity to support all transferring students and by utilising the small school model we are confident that the growth in the student numbers will not impact on the quality of education delivery or pastoral care provided to students.
"We have also identified the additional teaching staff that will be needed and hope to redeploy existing High Weald Academy staff to meet any gaps.
"We will be creating new classes using existing underutilised classroom space so class sizes will not be affected.
"With regard to admissions, it is difficult to predict future numbers but from Kent County Council's data there is anticipated to be more places than students over the next few years and therefore admissions would only be restricted if Mascalls was oversubscribed.
"We have also identified the additional teaching staff that will be needed and hope to redeploy existing High Weald Academy staff to meet any gaps..."
"Mascalls does, however, have further capacity to grow in the future years if local demand increases unexpectedly."
The spokesman added: "LAT does not currently forecast any shortage in student places at Mascalls as a direct result of students transferring from High Weald or new the construction of homes in the area.
"All current year groups at Mascalls are currently undersubscribed and even with a proportion of students transferring from High Weald we still anticipate we will have places in most year groups.
"If the demand for local places grows beyond current predictions by KCC then we are confident that Mascalls could accommodate further growth on its site if necessary."
Meanwhile a petition to the government to reverse the decision to close High Weald Academy has been rejected, as the website cannot accept action relating to organisations outside of the government or Parliament.
However, a petition has now been set up on change.org, calling for the reversal. More than 400 people have signed it.
Those attending the public meeting are encouraged to take part in a poll being run by Helen Grant, MP. It can be found by clicking here