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Council to review ‘unlawful’ super-school plans which did not assess Welsh language impact

27 Oct 2022 3 minute read
Students in a lesson at school. Picture by Ben Birchall / PA Wire.

A south Wales council, ruled to have acted unlawfully for not assessing the Welsh language impact when it decided to establish an English-medium ‘super-school,’ has said it now wants to review its decision.

The High Court recently ruled that Neath Port Talbot Council acted unlawfully when it decided to establish an English-medium ‘super-school’ to replace three smaller primary schools in the Pontardawe area.

The court, sitting in Cardiff on 24 October, decided that the new school proposed at Parc Ynysderw cannot currently go ahead as the council failed to assess properly the impact it would have on the Welsh-medium schools in the area.

The judgment follows a claim for judicial review brought by Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg (RhAG), an organisation that supports parents who wish to choose Welsh language education for their children, and promotes Welsh-medium education in general.

Neath Port Talbot Council has now issued a statement, saying: “On 20 October 2021,  following a thorough consultation process, the council’s former Cabinet approved the proposal to establish an English-medium 3-11 school with a specialist Learning Support Centre (LSC) for 16 pupils with a statement of special educational needs relating to Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), in new build premises to accommodate pupils from the current catchment areas of Alltwen Primary, Godre’rgraig Primary and Llangiwg Primary, all of which would be discontinued on 31 August, 2024.

“Earlier this year, the council received notification the decision was to be challenged by a Welsh-medium education parents group.

“The challenge was brought on three grounds all relating to the principle that a Welsh Language Impact Assessment should have been consulted on at the same time as the school consultation.

“The judgement has now been received and the judge has found in favour of the applicant on one of the three grounds.

“At the same time, the Rainbow Coalition administration at Neath Port Talbot Council has indicated it wishes to review the decision that has been taken in respect of the Swansea Valley school reorganisations.

“In light of the decision and the desire for a review, the council is now considering the next steps for the process, with the continued aim of positively transforming the educational opportunities for children and young people, and enhancing the community provision for all in the Swansea Valley.”

‘National importance’

Represented by commercial law firm Darwin Gray LLP, and Gwion Lewis KC of Landmark Chambers, RhAG had challenged the council’s decision to open the new school as the initial statutory consultation and subsequent decision did not comply with the Welsh Government’s School Organisation Code.

Mr Justice Kerr had determined that the council had misinterpreted the Code by not regarding the local Welsh-medium primary schools as schools that would be “affected” by the new English-medium super-school.

Gwion Lewis KC, who acted for RhAG throughout the case, previously said: “This is a judgment of national importance for Wales. It makes clear that councils must undertake a Welsh language impact assessment whenever there is a real possibility that a proposal to open a new school could impact on existing Welsh-medium schools, or the vitality of the Welsh language in the community.

“The judgment is a must-read for everyone involved with education in Wales.”

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