South East Wales

Court fight against sixth form closure in Blaenau Gwent

Protesters at the Senedd
Image caption Parents and pupils presented a 2,000-name petition opposing the proposed closure in October

A row between a school and the Welsh Assembly Government over the removal of its sixth form has "high constitutional importance," a court has heard.

The claim was made by the assembly government legal team during a judicial review over Brynmawr Foundation School.

The decision to delegate powers to Blaenau Gwent council over the sixth form is being challenged by the school.

The school is one of a dozen in Wales with foundation status, meaning it is largely outside local council control.

The QC representing the school said it was protected from the local authority dictating its age range by Westminster legislation, which predates the formation of the assembly, but which continues to apply in Wales.

The hearing at Cardiff Civil Justice Centre was told the legislation prohibited a local education authority from closing the sixth form in a foundation school.

It was also told that ministers were seeking to "circumvent" the protection given to foundation schools by delegating its power to close the sixth form to the council.

The case could have far reaching consequences for the way the assembly government operates.

Legal costs could exceed £100,000, according to a source close to the case, which will be met either by the school or the assembly government and the council.

The school claims the ruling on the sixth form should not stand as it has foundation status, meaning it is outside local authority control.

The council also proposes closing sixth forms at Tredegar Comprehensive and Ebbw Vale Comprehensive and moving to a new facility to be run by Coleg Gwent.

The plans have been approved by the council and building work has already begun on the site in Ebbw Vale.

But moves to close the sixth form at Brynmawr Foundation School have been resisted.

In October, parents and pupils presented a 2,000-name petition to the assembly government opposing closure.

In a statement before the hearing began, head teacher James Retallick said: "We are optimistic that the judicial review will preserve the rights of parents and students over the age of 16 to attend the school of their choice in Blaenau Gwent."

Foundation status gives school governing bodies more freedom over finances, staffing and selection.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews has tabled an assembly measure to prevent the creation of any further foundation schools.

Under current legislation a sixth form in a foundation school can only be closed by assembly government ministers.

Legal costs

In this case, ministers delegated the power to make the decision to Blaenau Gwent council, a move the school is challenging.

An assembly government spokesperson said before the case: "The Welsh ministers have the power to consult upon and make proposals for the re-organisation of sixth forms of foundation schools in Wales, such as Brynmawr school.

"Local authorities have the power to consult upon and make proposals for the reorganisation of sixth forms of community schools in their area.

"On 14 June 2010, the Welsh ministers entered into an arrangement with Blaenau Gwent council so that the council could exercise the above Welsh ministers' powers in respect of Brynmawr school.

"The arrangement was made to enable the council to adopt a holistic approach to post-16 education provision in its area."

Blaenau Gwent council said it would be inappropriate to comment during the judicial review and until a decision has been made by the High Court.

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