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Challenge to decision to close two primary schools in Wales

R (Wiggins & Jones) v Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council [2015] EWHC 2266 (Admin)

Related Member(s):
Sarah Hannett
Related Practice Area(s):
Education Law, Public Law
Court:

The claimants challenged the decision of the defendant Council to close two primary schools in its area, taken under the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013, Pt 3. The Act had established that any school closure had to comply with the School Organisation Code, which placed various consultation obligations on the local authority.

The Code required the publication of a consultation document which had to give a detailed description of the proposal. Where a closure was being countenanced, it was necessary to provide details of the alternatives considered, and why these weren’t taken forward. The local authority was obliged to consider, among other things, the quality and standards in education and the resourcing and financial implications. This included a consideration of capital costs and potential savings.

The claimants argued that redundancy payments should have been included in the costs specified in the Consultation Report. It was also alleged that there were other financial irregularities in the Report that were misleading, given that they were said to support the closure of the school. Finally, it was suggested that appropriate consideration had not been given to alternative proposals and that the Consultation Report did not reflect the responses that there was inadequate information, or that the figures had been exaggerated.

The Court accepted that redundancy payments should have been included in the consultation, and that subsequent information which indicated that many of the staff had obtained employment was irrelevant to whether the decision taken at the time was lawful. However, it concluded that the ultimate closure was likely to have occurred even if such costs had been included. Other reasons, such as the fact that the schools were operating well below capacity, were also relevant, and there was evidence that proposals could lead to improvements in the quality of education provision.  The Court dismissed the applicants other arguments, and refused leave to apply for judicial review.

Sarah Hannett was involved in this case.