Administrative Court gives judgment on Academy order case in the context of South Somerset school restructure

On Friday, Mr Justice Fraser handed down judgment in Somerset County Council v Secretary of State for Education [2020] EWHC 1675 (Admin), quashing an Academy order made in respect of Swanmead Community School on the grounds that there was a failure to fully consider the impact it would have on the local school restructure. South Somerset has a three-tier school system, which the Council is concerned is unviable. For that reason, in Spring 2019 the Council initiated a review into a restructure of the schooling in the area and a report was commissioned and published in June. Earlier in the year, Swanmead had made an application to the Secretary of State for an Academy order, which is a step in the process to academisation. It sought to join a MAT, Bridgwater College Trust. The Council did not initially oppose this but became concerned that BCT may differ from it in its views on the restructure. The Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC), who generally takes decisions on behalf of the Secretary of State on applications for Academy orders in their area, made the Academy order in September 2019. She considered that the order “should not present an impediment” to any restructure as “MATs should be working with each other and with the local authority”. The Council challenged this decision by way of judicial review, asserting the RSC had to consider in greater detail the impact of the Academy order on the restructure by, for example, seeking BCT’s view on some of the available options, which the Court accepted. The Court however rejected other points made by the Council, including a broad one that making of the Academy order defeated the Council’s own duties in respect of school organisation. The Court also made clear that the facts in the case are “highly unusual” and that the judgment “should not be interpreted to give carte blanche to those wishing to challenge the making of academy orders generally”. A copy of the judgment is available here. Leon Glenister represented the Secretary of State, instructed by Michael Jones of the Government Legal Department.

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