Wales politics

Wales school closures plans hugely flawed - solicitor

Plans for school closures to be decided by local panels rather than ministers in Wales are hugely flawed, says a solicitor specialising in education.

Michael Imperato said it risked creating what he called "kangaroo courts" to decide whether schools should be merged or closed.

The Welsh government is proposing the changes as part of its School Standards and Organisation Bill.

A spokesman said scrutiny of the proposals in the Bill was welcomed.

Currently, objections to decisions made by councils about school reorganisation are automatically decided by Welsh government ministers, a process which can take more than a year.

According to Education Minister Leighton Andrews, the proposal for new local determination panels (LDPs) is aimed at speeding up decisions as well as enhancing local accountability.

Under the proposals, the LDPs would decide on any appeals, with no recourse to ministers except in cases of maladministration.

But in his evidence to the committee scrutinising the Bill, Mr Imperato will say the LDPs would be unworkable and would lead to a string of judicial reviews.

He said: "I am bound to say that LDP seems to me to be likely to be perceived as a kangaroo court of local worthies rubber stamping a decision already made by other local worthies.

"I do not believe this system has any merit in speeding up the process or saving costs.

'Cumbersome, costly'

"Indeed, I consider it is inevitable it will be more cumbersome, more costly. I consider it will give rise to far more JR (judicial review) challenges than are already undertaken. The LDP will make mistakes; there will be challenges as to its composition, the role and decisions of the clerk, et cetera.

"LDPs will result in the opposite of what they are supposed to achieve. I have no doubt about this. Why introduce a quasi-legal process to replace a distinct and easily manageable administrative process? It makes little practical sense."

He said the whole proposal to remove the role of an "obviously independent adjudicator", and introduce LDPs might be subject to challenges under the human rights legislation "as it is so obviously flawed".

Mr Imperato was invited by the committee to give evidence as an education law specialist with expertise in school re-organisation.

He added that the projected cost of £250 for each LDP meeting was "so off-beam, it's embarrassing".

A Welsh government spokesman said the Bill was going through legislative scrutiny by the Welsh assembly.

He added: "Evidence submitted by Mr Imperato to the children and young people committee forms part of this process.

"We welcome the scrutiny of the proposals in the Bill and will engage with all of the evidence submitted to the committee at the appropriate time."

The spokesman said the Welsh government was confident the Bill was a "robust and coherent response to the issues facing the education system in Wales", and believed the proposals in it struck the right balance between local and national action to drive up standards.

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