The High Court has given permission for a judicial review challenge over Neath Port Talbot Council's decision to close three English medium schools in the Pontardawe area to establish one English medium school.
The judicial review application was put forward by Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg (RhAG), an organisation that supports parents on their children’s journey through Welsh Medium Education.
RhAG is challenging the council's decision on the following three grounds:
- The decision contravenes the School Organization Code as an assessment of the impact of the proposal on the Welsh language and on Welsh-medium schools in the area was not included in the original consultation document.
- The council provided an assessment of the impact of the proposal on the Welsh language after the statutory consultation period ended, but there was no further consultation on this assessment before the council published the statutory notice confirming its wish to proceed with the scheme.
- The Welsh Government commissioned a further report to consider the impact of the proposal on the Welsh language in August 2021, which was after the end of the statutory consultation period, and after the end of the statutory objection period. There was no consultation on this further report before the Cabinet made its decision on 20 October 2021, which again arguably goes against the Code and case law in this area, which establishes what is required for a fair consultation and to ensure essential fairness to all parties.
Elin Maher, Acting National Director of RhAG, said: “The situation has caused considerable concern, for us as an organisation, and more particularly in the community in Pontardawe, especially as the council themselves recognise that the area is one of significant linguistic importance in regard to the Welsh language. "
Siôn Fôn, a solicitor and Associate with law firm Darwin Gray, who represents RHaG, said he welcomed the High Court's decision to allow the challenge to proceed with this judicial review. He noted: “[We] believe that further interpretation of the School Organization Code will benefit local authorities throughout Wales”.
He added: “Local authorities have a duty to ensure that strict rules around public consultations are respected and that all relevant issues are fully considered by the public as part of a fair consultation."
The three schools – Alltwen, Godre'r Graig and Llangiwg Primary Schools – are scheduled to close in August 2024 and will be replaced by a new build school funded jointly by the Welsh Government’s 21st Century School Programme capital grant and the council’s own funds.
The Welsh Government’s programme aims to invest in educational infrastructure throughout Wales. In the first five years of the initiative (2014 to 2019), £1.4 billion was invested, which supported the rebuild and refurbishment of around 150 schools and colleges.
The reorganisation of schools in Wales as part of the programme has triggered several other legal challenges. Last month (June 2022), a challenge of Powys County Council's decision to close a small rural school was refused.
A spokesperson for Neath Port Talbot Council said: “A consent for a judicial review was granted by the courts in March 2022, with the council defending the proceedings. It would be inappropriate to comment further whilst these proceedings are ongoing”.