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Secretary of State confirms closure plan for High Weald Academy (HWA)

Dear parents and carers,

The listening period on the closure plan for HWA closed on Monday 25th October. Having considered all of the evidence, the Secretary of State for Education has now approved the final closure plan.

We are grateful to all of those who gave their views as part of the listening exercise. In total, 285 responses were received, including 125 from existing parents. We include in an appendix to this letter the main points raised by respondents and a commentary to go alongside these points in each case. The Secretary of State did not consider that any new evidence emerged during the listening period which required the closure plan to be changed.

As explained in the listening period exercise pack issued by Leigh Academies Trust (LAT) on 27th September 2021, the reasons for the closure of HWA relate to long-term issues with low pupil numbers resulting in financial difficulties and in turn contributing to poor educational performance. 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.

We will ensure that the quality of education provided for pupils remaining at the academy for the rest of the academic year is as positive as possible. To cater best for a much-reduced number of pupils, we have rewritten the timetable as we begin this half-term to ensure your 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 your child’s journey at HWA ends positively.

We appreciate parents’ efforts to meet the Local Authority deadline of 22nd October to specify a new school choice for their son or daughter. We will be following up with the small handful of parents at the start of the new half-term who have not yet expressed a choice. To remind you, those year 10 pupils remaining at HWA for the time being will move to Mascalls Academy or another setting if preferred on 1st January 2022 when this year group will close at HWA. Pupils in years 7-9 will do the same on 1st September 2022 when all remaining year groups at HWA will close and its funding agreement is terminated by mutual agreement by the Secretary of State.

All eligible Kent-based year 10s joining Mascalls in January will be offered the opportunity of free transport. We are now working closely with Kent County Council to finalise these plans. We will do the same for pupils in years 7-9 ahead of next September. Mr Jones will be in touch with those families affected again shortly to confirm arrangements.

Any pupil joining another academy at any point, whether this is Mascalls or an alternative destination, will be offered financial support for school uniform up to a maximum per capita value agreed with the Department for Education. Parents should seek reimbursement from their child’s new secondary school who will in turn invoice LAT on a termly basis for these costs.

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. Any parent who continues to experience individual concerns should address these in the first instance to the team at HWA who will work hard to resolve them.

We look forward to continuing to work with you for the rest of the time your child spends at HWA before moving onto their new destinations and appreciate your support to ensure that this period is as positive and productive as it can be.

Yours faithfully,

Simon Beamish | Chief Executive


Appendix - listening period responses and commentary

Type of response

Comment by LAT

1. The new building will go to waste.

LAT proposes to put the building to good use as a new campus for Snowfields Academy. 

2. HWA was already improving.

LAT’s assessment of the current provision is that Ofsted would judge the academy to be “inadequate”, largely due to a much-restricted curriculum, poor pupil behaviour and high rates of persistent pupil absenteeism.

3. HWA needs more time to show that it can improve.

HWA has never been judged “good” since it failed under local authority control and became an academy in 2012. The problems at HWA are very deep seated. The Ofsted record is as follows:

  • Jul 14 - full inspection - RI
  • Oct 14 - monitoring visit (MV)
  • Oct 16 - full inspection - RI
  • Jul 18 - MV
  • Apr 19 - full inspection - RI
  • Nov 20 - MV
  • Feb 21 - MV
  • Jul 21 - MV

4. Travel times for current pupils to new schools.

Only 23% of pupils in years 7-10 actually live in Cranbrook and of these, only 6% of pupils live within easy walking distance. Specifically 6% are in “TN17 2” (same postcode as HWA) and 17% are in “TN17 3”. 77% of pupils do not live in Cranbrook with a high proportion living closer to Paddock Wood (where Mascalls Academy is located) than Cranbrook. In total, 37% of pupils live in the TN12 Paddock Wood postcode. The nature of this rural part of Kent means that most pupils already have to travel to get to secondary school by car or public transport. 

5. Closing HWA will have a detrimental effect on children with SEN. 

Historic academic results for SEN pupils are very poor. In addition, they account for a high proportion of exclusions and persistent absenteeism. SEN pupils do not do well in relation to academic outcomes across subjects at HWA. In 2019 the Progress 8 score for SEN pupils at HWA was -0.91. In contrast, the same figure at Mascalls was -0.17. These pupils will be served much better by transferring to a stronger secondary school where these groups of pupils perform much better. 

6. There are lots of new houses being built in the area so the school is needed.

KCC’s commissioning data, which takes account of any new housing developments, shows large surpluses in secondary school places for the whole duration of the commissioning period which spans up to 2027.

7. HWA as it is should be combined with a new SEN school (i.e. Snowfields) on the same site.

There would not be enough room for the two schools (once full) in one building. The on-site combination of these different educational setting types would not be complementary. The new special school campus will be a 3FE school and when it grows to full capacity will use the whole of the new building. Under plans being discussed with KCC, all redundant old building stock will be demolished leaving no space for a small secondary on the same site.

8. There has been no consultation with the local community.

The SoS has taken the decision to close HWA based on a wide range of factors. Feedback is now being taken as per the relevant guidance on the closure plan. There is no requirement to undertake a consultation on whether the school should close.

9. The closure is rushed.

There is no benefit for pupils remaining in the current failing school beyond this academic year, especially whilst such uncertainty hangs over HWA. In addition, it is in year 10 pupils’ interest to move to Mascalls in January to ensure much better continuity and higher standards during their GCSE studies. Waiting until next September for pupils in year 10 would almost certainly cause them to significantly underperform. From now onwards, it will be very difficult to convince any new good teachers to join HWA.

10. Concerns over the future of the school farm.

LAT will maintain the farm as part of Snowfields Academy.

11. There is no space in other local secondary schools.

This is not the case. Other local secondary schools are below PAN in most year groups due to the lack of secondary-age pupils in the area.

12. Why weren’t parents told before a new year 7 group of pupils joined the school.

The Minister’s decision was only officially confirmed to LAT in a letter dated 24th September 2021.

13. HWA is a small school and can give better attention to pupils.

This is not the case. The low capacity and staffing numbers at HWA, including pastoral and SEN staff, mean that it is often difficult to address pupils’ needs.

14. Can the closure not be phased over time with no new intake of pupils from September 2022, but existing pupils remaining until they finish key stage 4.

This would not be viable. It would involve providing a secondary curriculum for an increasingly tiny number of pupils for another 4-5 years. Annual financial deficits would mount considerably and it would be virtually impossible to attract new staff to the school given that its life would be time limited. The quality of education for pupils still at the school would continue to decline up to the point of closure, whenever that might be.

15. Would a partnership with Cranbrook School save HWA.

LAT has spoken to Cranbrook School about any support they might be able to give, but none of the points offered would be enough to save the school. For instance, the offer of some shared sixth form courses would not help as HWA does not have a sixth form. Whilst wishing to support, Cranbrook School would not be willing to sponsor the school themselves as they recognise the very deep seated financial and educational challenges at HWA which cannot be turned around.