Reopen Wealden School

Closure of High Weald Academy, Cranbrook TN17 – the community tries to fight back.

Summary: a newly rebuilt school for 1050 pupils is being closed due to a ‘Pragmatic Decision’ by the Department of Education, just as KCC announce they need 6000 new school places.

The Department of Education manages all Academies across the country. County Councils have little influence with them, so while the decisions have no democratic basis, they are how the department manages schools.

The Commissioner for the South East, Claire Burton, had a meeting in March 2021 where the minutes state:

Project: Leigh Academies Trust (LAT), Kent, merger with Brook Learning Trust (BLT)

Recognition that this is a pragmatic decision.

Discussion about the capacity of LAT and its recent growth.

It is important to note that High Weald Academy is not mentioned by name in any minute before or since.

In September 2021

Without warning, just after the new school year started, Leigh announced the school will close and be turned into a Special Needs school (SEN) in 2022 for children with exceptional needs

Leigh also say that it is unlikely that any local children will meet the criteria for admission standards for the new school.

This means that 100 students will be bussed or taxied in each day from as far as Ramsgate, Hythe, Faversham, while 700 local pupils will be bussed out of the catchment area.

Local Pupils must go to alternative schools, all are at least 11 miles from Cranbrook, leaving a 300 square mile hole in secondary Education in the centre of the Weald.

Alternative destinationAcademy Distance from HWA Time to travelCurrent number/ CapacityOfstead report Date
Paddock WoodMascalls 13 miles 1 hr 4 mins bus & train1246/1450Good November 2021
TenterdenHomewood 11 miles 25 minutes2068/2156Requires improvement October 2019
MaidstoneCornwallis 11 miles 40 minutes Bus1287/1825Good November 2018
WadhurstUplands 12 miles Car required774 oversubscribedGood March 2017

A bus pass will cost £370 per pupil (increasing in 2022 to over £400)

COP26 indicates that this travel is environmentally unsustainable for all students coming in and leaving Cranbrook every day for the next few generations.

Buildings:

The High Weald Academy was completely rebuilt 3 years ago at a cost of £11 million, to house 1050 students in a state of the art school.

It was poorly run by Brooke Learning Trust who lacked the skills to turn around a failing school. All 3 schools in their portfolio were failing: Cranbrook has been closed, Hayesbrook is going co-educational and Ebbsfleet seems to be improving.

The reasons for falling rolls were financial mismanagement leading to the sixth form being summarily closed, meaning parents chose other schools A level courses.

Fewer pupils meant GCSE courses were then cut due to expense, so even more parents chose other schools. As a result good, ambitious teachers moved on quickly.

The school is in an area of deprivation so the more disadvantaged children stayed at the school, in spite of poor behaviours and exam results.

Over 8 years the Department of Education did nothing to remedy the situation. No superhead was parachuted in with a staff dedicated to turning round the school.

It appears a new commissioner forced Leigh Academy Trust to take over Brook Learning, and their ‘pragmatic decision’ was to shut High Weald and concentrate their efforts on the other two schools.

Leigh Academy Trust have inherited a brand new school built for 1050 students, and Kent County Council is spending a further £3.2 million to put in partitions and make space suitable for about 100 SEN students.

The High Weald school used to be called Angley School and had 1250 pupils in the late 1990s, with excellent academic results. The mismanagement by a central government department has caused the school to break.

Potential Future:

The community want the school reopened as a free school, staffed by professional ‘turnaround experts’.

We recognise the need for vocational and academic courses, perhaps with different exam certifications – we are an agricultural community with much new housing and listed buildings which all need apprenticed crafts people.

The local Grammar, Cranbrook school, supports the delivery of a full spectrum of courses in the area, having shared sixth form classes in the past.

As a community, the school should be a hub for activities, developing lifelong friendships and a driver of the local economy. The closure will greatly harm our community and affects 13 parishes in the constituencies of 3 MPs.

A closure without consultation illustrates a democratic deficit often experienced in rural areas, and is an insult to localism, levelling up, COP26 and students for years to come.

Action:

Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Parish Council has started a campaign to challenge this decision based on the number of children who need non selective secondary education.

A new school needs 150 students in each year to make it viable.

We know there were 2154 students across all the primary schools in the catchment area of 13 parishes, and 284 left last year

There are over 2000 new houses being built which will feed into these numbers.

By speaking to parents of all ages of children, and the developers to share their expected bedroom numbers, and experts in setting up free schools, we hope to prove there will be 150 students a year to go into a reopened free school on the site. It will not be called High Weald Academy.

It is important to state that we welcome SEN schools into the area. We already work closely with the students at the new Bellevue school in Jockey Lane to integrate them into society.

Note that Kent County Council already run the Swattenden Centre, which used to be the local boy’s school before Angley went Co-educational many years ago. This is a large rural campus with space and silence for children who need quiet and space, ideal for a new SEN school.

In Summary: a newly rebuilt school for 1050 pupils is being closed due to a ‘Pragmatic Decision’ by the Department of Education, just as KCC announce they need 6000 new school places.

If Leigh Academy Trust do not have the management capacity, perhaps another trust should be given the opportunity to reopen the school.

Contact:

Kim Fletcher – chairman, Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Parish Council

07802 364 555

Email: reopenwealdenschool@gmail.com

Sources:

Aspirations of the High Weald Academy:

High Weald Academy – The High Weald Academy New Building Approved

Photo of the new buildings:

Map from KCC: Commissioning Education 2022- 2025 page 151 (see below on next page)

Commissioning Plan for Education Provision – Kent County Council

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