Plans for a new academy on the site of the former Royal School for Deaf Children in Margate have been ditched for a second time following discussions between Kent County Council and the Department for Education over the forecast of pupil numbers in the district.
The decision has been taken after secondary student numbers in Thanet dropped below the levels predicted when the school was originally proposed in 2015.
Plans in 2017, had originally been to open at the former Walmer School site with 150 pupils and then transfer to the new build with pupil numbers predicted to double and the school roll having students from Year 7-Year 9.
At the time KCC said the move was to tackle a predicted shortfall of 309 Year 7 places and across years 7-11 a shortage of 1256 places in Thanet by 2022/23.
However, KCC now says a change in the demographics – and in particular for the first time in many years more children leaving the area than coming in to it – has resulted in a significant drop in the number of secondary students compared to the numbers that were predicted for 2023 and has prompted the decision, which was agreed by KCC and Baroness Barran, the Minister for the School System.
The number of Year 7 students in the current academic year 2021/2022 is at least 200 lower than the predictions when the competition to identify an academy trust for the school was first run in 2015.
In October 2019 former KCC leader Paul Carter announced the decision not to go ahead with the new build at the site in Margate. KCC ditched the plan saying it instead wanted to expand existing schools in Thanet including Ursuline College and King Ethelbert’s School with a temporary expansion also planned at the Royal Harbour Academy in Ramsgate.
However KCC had to gain permission for the decision to be reversed from the Department for Education and this was refused.
Now the plans, which would have involved creating Park Crescent Academy with a new teaching block, sports hall, outdoor grass pitches and a multi-use games area, have again been dropped.
The six form academy, sponsored by The Howard Academy Trust, had been expected to open in September 2023. A 20 place Specialist Resourced Provision for pupils whose primary barrier to learning is Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was also to have been included.
Following the decision to cancel the plans, a KCC spokesman said: “Kent County Council has a duty to ensure high quality education provision is available for every child and young person in Kent.
“We believed that the Park Crescent Academy would have given families in Thanet more choice and a further opportunity to attend a school provided by an academy trust with an excellent reputation.
“It is our duty to anticipate future demand for places and the new academy was intended to address that demand for secondary school places in the area, which was expected to come about as a result of additional housing.
“However, that has not materialised so a new school is no longer required.
“KCC will continue to work in close alliance with schools and academy trusts to ensure parents and children have a choice of good secondary educational provision in Thanet.”
Kent County Councillor Barry Lewis, who represents Margate at the authority, said: “I am delighted with this decision. The money that was being spent on this school should be redirected into existing schools that urgently need more money invested in them to improve the education of existing children in Thanet.
“People in the neighbouring area will also be relieved because of the traffic nightmare this new school would have caused.”
Demolition of existing buildings on the site has already taken place. In 2017 KCC approved the purchase of the site. The price paid was not revealed but documents stated it was a decision “about expenditure … over £1,000,000,” and marketing details for the site stated: “recent local land sales (have achieved) upwards of £700,000 per acre. The RSDC comprises 14.7 acres.
The Royal School for Deaf Children was shut down suddenly in December 2015 after The John Townsend Trust, which ran it, went into administration.
The distressing closure of the school and Westgate College resulted in some 500 job losses and scores of children left without a specialist school placement.
The CQC had ordered the trust to shut down residential accommodation attached to the college with 38 residents aged 19 to 22 being moved to alternative facilities after the revelation of physical abuse incidents.
The Royal School for Deaf Children was the oldest in the country, with the Margate site dating back to 1876.