A small Welsh-medium primary school that Denbighshire County Council had decided to close is now to remain open permanently after local campaigners successfully challenged the closure decision by judicial review: R (Aron Wyn Jones) v Denbighshire County Council  EWHC 2074 (Admin).
In 2015, the Council announced plans to close Ysgol Pentrecelyn, a rural school for some 56 Welsh-speaking pupils, and merge it with a larger bilingual school in the same area, Ysgol Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd, in a new building on a different site. The new school was to be a bilingual school, not a Welsh-medium school. In a small rural school, this means that a single teacher alternates between Welsh and English throughout the day to cater for the two “language streams” within the same class.
The Welsh Government’s School Organisation Code requires such school closure proposals to be accompanied by a Welsh Language and Community Impact Assessment (“WLCIA”). In this case, instead of assessing the language and community impact of the Council’s proposal to open a new school on a new site, the WLCIA carried out by the Council only assessed the impact of an ‘interim’ proposal to ‘merge’ the two schools formally for 1 year, but with the pupils to remain on the two existing sites during that period, with no material change in how lessons would be delivered. Unsurprisingly, the WLCIA concluded that there would only be very modest language and community impacts from this ‘interim’ proposal.
Hickinbottom J and HHJ Milwyn Jarman Q.C., sitting in the Divisional Court in Mold in 2016, upheld a claim for judicial review by Ymgyrch Pentrecelyn (the Pentrecelyn Campaign), led by a representative claimant, who argued that the Council’s decision to implement the ‘interim’ proposal without considering the language and community impacts of the ultimate plan to merge the two schools on a single site was unlawful. The judges also agreed that the Council was unclear and inconsistent about the scope of its consultation, and therefore failed to meet the minimum standards for a lawful consultation.
The Council’s Cabinet met this week to discuss its response to the judgment. Members voted unanimously in favour of a proposal to discontinue the proposed merger of Ysgol Pentrecelyn and Ysgol Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd and to keep Ysgol Pentrecelyn open as a Welsh-medium school. In a statement, Councillor Eryl Williams, Cabinet Lead Member for Education, said:
“The judicial review outcome did not criticise the objectives of the proposal but quashed the decision on procedural grounds. As a result the Council has since given the matter extensive consideration. Discussions have been held with both school communities and it has been absolutely clear that neither community wanted to re-visit the original proposals. The Council was also sensitive to the fact that it did not wish to risk any further community divisions and any potential legal challenges. It therefore recommended that the status quo should remain at Ysgol Pentrecelyn”
Gwion Lewis acted for Ymgyrch Pentrecelyn in the Divisional Court.