Court Grants Permission To Examine Proposals To Close Primary School And Merge Others
Two families fighting a school closure and restructure to the education system in south Somerset have been granted permission to challenge a county council’s decision in the High Court.
Irwin Mitchell’s specialist education lawyers are supporting both families in bringing the judicial review against Somerset County Council’s decision, arguing that the council’s plans were unlawful.
Both cases follow the council’s decision to change its three-tier education system of first, middle and upper schools, to a two-tier model for primary and secondary schools.
The first case concerns the family for child 1, whose six-year old daughter attends Misterton Church of England First School, set to close under the proposals. The second case sees the family for child 2, whose five-year old son attends Greenfylde First School, challenge the proposed merging of Swanmead Community School, a non-faith school, with Greenfylde First School to create a split-site Church of England primary school.
The council said the decision to reorganise the schools was due to a reduction in pupil numbers.
In addition to the shared grounds for the judicial review, the second case argues the decision to merge Swanmead and Greenfylde schools is discriminatory against those with no religious beliefs, in breach of the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act.
Expert Opinion“The families are pleased that the High Court has accepted they have a case which merits a judicial review of the council’s decisions.
“Any proposals to close schools and reorganise the education system are rarely simple and it’s
vital community and parental concerns are taken into account when such decisions are made.
“The families in both cases feel the public consultations were unfair and premeditated, with only single restructuring options put forward, which involved closing Misterton First School and merging Swanmead with Greenfylde.
“Both clients feel strongly the council failed to take proper account of the impact on their children’s education and the local community. The impact of the proposals on our rural communities will be significant. We look forward to the case being heard by the court.” Rachael Louise Smurthwaite - Associate Solicitor
Irwin Mitchell’s case on behalf of the families will be put forward at the judicial review by barristers Steve Broach, Gethin Thomas and Rachel Sullivan, of 39 Essex Chambers.
Commenting on the judicial review decision, the family for child 1 said: “None of the families wanted to be in this position, but we feel these decisions are wrong and should be looked at by a court.
“There was no option for Misterton to remain open and the school was refused a chance to convert to a primary, when others in the area were allowed. This leads me to believe the decision on the school’s closure was final, regardless of the consultation.”
“Our children live in rural communities and desperately need their schools to remain open.”
The family for child 2, said: "This process has been unsatisfactory. SCC's 2019 consultation was cut short by over a month, with no warning or explanation to parents and 2020 and 2021 consultations were held during periods of National Lockdowns.
“Consultations have not been conducted as they should. The public were left to oppose loss of provision and school closures etc. with their hands tied behind their backs.
“Hopefully this judicial review will give local parents the ruling we are looking for and address the very real concerns of myself and others regarding the restructuring process."
The judicial review hearing is scheduled to take place at the High Court in Cardiff on 14 and 15 October.