Hextable Academy in Swanley is to close because of falling rolls. Just when you thought schools needed to expand the Oasis Academy chain has decided to close Hextable Academy in Swanley. The 11-18 school has just fewer than 500 students according to government figures, but could accommodate 1,000 pupils. Those parents and their offspring waiting to hear about 2015 admissions in a fortnight’s time will be especially annoyed, as will the pupils kept at the school to complete their examination courses if teachers decide to quit ahead of the closure. Having worked in a college during a period of run-down prior to closure I know from first experience how little fun such a situation can be for both staff and students. The Academy Trust has at least apparently offered to pay for the new uniform of pupil relocated to another school.
Questions will need to be asked about the future of the site. It would be short-sighted to lose the school from education use if pupil numbers will increase over the next few years. Indeed, one wonders whether it might have been possible to save the school by turning it into a 5-18 all-through school by adding a primary department.
Kent County Council, the local authority, is in something of a difficult situation. They retain the legal responsibility for ensuring an education for all children but have no control over admission numbers in academies and could not have vetoed the decision to shut this school. I hope they will send Oasis a bill for all the extra work required of officers in placing the pupils requiring a new school because of the closure. It would be unfair to expect the council taxpayers of the county to foot the bill either for finding new schools or for any extra travel costs resulting from pupils having to change schools.
Hopefully, the academy chain discussed this closure with both the Education Funding Agency and their Regional Commissioner and explored whether it was worth keeping the school open with additional grant funding until pupil numbers increased again.
This episode, along with the Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust revelations chronicled in a previous post confirm my belief that the next government must sort out governance arrangements once and for all so that there is an overall body responsible for place planning and the effective use of resources across the school estate. I would like it to be the role of local authorities, but it doesn’t have to be if the government at Westminster decides otherwise. But, the present muddle cannot be allowed to last. Unstitching the grant payment for pupils that transfer to secondary schools that are not academies and operate on a different financial year will be just one more headache for officers to deal with.
One thing the DfE and EFA along with the regional commissioners must now do is set a timetable for academies and free school to notify the authorities each year if they are considering closure because of lack of numbers, or indeed for any other foreseeable reason.