Manchester City Council

Cheshire East Council

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Lawyer advising parents over council plan to close rural schools in Wales

A council’s ten year strategy to transform education in its county could be disrupted after parents whose children’s schools are under threat of closure as part of the plan are threatening legal action.

Multiple rural schools in Powys have been earmarked for closure by Powys County Council as part of a county-wide plan to reform education in the area.

Powys held a consultation between April 2021 and June 2021 on the closure of multiple small schools in the county.

Last month, the local authority issued a statutory notice to close Castle Caereinion Church in Wales Primary from August 2022.

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Three more schools are under threat of closure, but the council's cabinet has yet to decide on closing them following the end of the consultation period.

Michael Imperato, a lawyer who has been involved in a number of high-profile school closure cases in Wales, is advising parents from several of the schools. Mr Imperato told BBC Wales Live he believed the plans were a breach of a Welsh government policy designed to protect rural schools.

He said that if Powys went ahead with the closures, the matter would be "played out in the High Court" in what would be the first legal test of the School Organisation Code.

The code, which was revised in 2018, made "special arrangements" in regard to rural schools establishing a procedural presumption against their closure. As part of this, the code requires proposers to follow a more detailed set of procedures and requirements in formulating a rural school closure proposal.

All viable alternatives to closure must have been "conscientiously considered" by the proposer, including federation, before a rural school can be closed, the code states.

Powys said it has sought independent legal advice to ensure that its decisions on the matter are robust. Cllr Phyl Davies, Cabinet Member for Education and Property, said that the plan would help to address the significant challenges facing education in Powys.

"These challenges include a high proportion of small schools in the county, decreasing pupil numbers, high number of surplus places, inequality in access to Welsh-medium education, limited post-14 and post-16 offer and inequality in access to special education needs / additional learning needs provision," Cllr Davies added.

Cllr Davies also said that the consultations around school proposals were held in accordance with the Welsh Government's School Organisation Code, which does not require meetings to be held as part of the consultation process.

Cllr Davies added: "I want to reassure our residents that all our proposals have been and will be developed robustly and that learners are put at the forefront of our decision-making. When the times comes to engage with schools' communities, we will provide them with the platform to give their views, which will be considered fully by the council."

Adam Carey

 

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