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High Court gives green light to legal challenge over decision by county to restructure of education system

Two families have been granted permission by the High Court to challenge a decision to restructure the education system in South Somerset.

The joined judicial review claims relate to Somerset County 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.

Both claims contend that Somerset: (a) failed to carry out a lawful consultation, (b) made a decision on the basis of unlawful predetermination, and (c) acted irrationally.

Rachael Louise Smurthwaite, solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said: “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.”

Irwin Mitchell has instructed barristers Steve Broach, Gethin Thomas and Rachel Sullivan of 39 Essex Chambers.

The set said that in addition to equivalent grounds to those advanced by in the first case, the claimant in the second case contends specifically that: (i) the decision indirectly discriminates against him contrary to section 19 of the Equality Act 2010, and (ii) breaches Article 14 of the ECHR taken with Articles 8 or 9.

The second claim also advances a ground contending a breach of the public sector equality duty, which Morris J ordered to be determined at a rolled-up hearing to address the issue as to BB’s standing on this ground.

The judicial review hearing is scheduled to take place at the High Court in Cardiff on 14 and 15 October.

When the legal challenges were originally announced in April 2021, a Somerset County Council spokesperson said: “We appreciate that the reorganisation of schools within the Crewkerne and Ilminster area is an emotive subject. We encourage all parties to work together to make these changes happen as smoothly as possible for the children, their families and carers, and the school staff. This will help ensure that every child continues to receive the high quality education that they absolutely deserve.”

The council said it did not agree with the allegations.

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