Reacting to the High Court decision on the proposed closures of Ysgol Pentrecelyn and Ysgol Llanfair DC and the creation of an area school, Llyr Gruffydd, a Parent Governor at Ysgol Pentrecelyn school and North Wales Assembly Member, said:
“This judgement has highlighted a shocking failure on behalf of Denbighshire County Council to fully consider the implications of their proposals on the Welsh language.
“Serious questions must be asked about the Welsh Government and the Welsh Language Commissioner’s failure to intervene in this process. If it wasn’t for a small group of dedicated parents and supporters of the school, Denbighshire’s proposals would have been implemented on what has now been proven to be an unlawful consultation based on an unlawful language impact assessment.
“The Welsh Government must now act on its rhetoric of creating one million Welsh speakers by ensuring Local Education Authorities do more to proactively strengthen Welsh medium provision.
“Denbighshire County Council must accept it has a responsibility not only to retain the existing level of Welsh medium education in the area but to strengthen it. We look forward to seeing the council take this legal ruling into account as it reflects on the language category of the proposed new area school.”
High Court blocks Pentrecelyn school closure in landmark judgment, branding Denbighshire County Council’s decision “hopelessly confused”
- Historic judgment on Welsh-language education
- Council severely criticised by the court for unlawful language impact assessment, unlawful consultation and “significant differences” between English and Welsh versions of the same public documents
- Local campaign group vindicated after years of opposing the proposals
Campaigners who challenged a decision by Denbighshire County Council to close a small Welsh language primary school in Pentrecelyn, Ruthin, are celebrating this morning, after the High Court gave an historic judgment blocking the closure. It is the first time ever that a court has intervened to prevent a school closure due to a failure to assess its impact on the Welsh language properly.
In 2015, Denbighshire County Council announced plans to close Ysgol Pentrecelyn, a small village school for some 56 Welsh-speaking pupils near Ruthin, north Wales, 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 would 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 are delivered. Unsurprisingly, the WLCIA concluded that there would only be very modest language and community impacts from this ‘interim’ proposal.
In the first ever judicial review of a decision to close a Welsh-language primary school, Ymgyrch Pentrecelyn (the Pentrecelyn Campaign) 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. They also argued 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.
Two judges of the High Court – Mr Justice Hickinbottom and His Honour Judge Milwyn Jarman Q.C. – heard the case in Mold back in June. This morning, the judges gave their judgment by videolink in Wrexham Crown Court. The court expressed its criticisms of the Council’s approach in unusually strong terms. Key extracts from the written judgment include:
“64. It was curious and artificial for the Council in considering whether to implement the temporary arrangements of Phase 1, to have ignored the permanent arrangement that would follow Phase 2. In our judgment, impact on the language and community of the permanent arrangement was clearly relevant to the decision as to whether to take the first step in the form of Phase 1. To have taken the first step along a proposed route without some appreciation of the risks in terms of adverse language and community impact that may lie ahead was, in our view, unlawful as well as unwise.”
“72. […] The Council had clearly decided upon its preferred option – the course it wished and intended to pursue – with regard to the future of primary school education in Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd and Pentrecelyn. However, unfortunately, we do not consider that clarity was replicated in the Consultation Document. That document has to be looked at as a whole; and, when looked at thus, we agree with Mr Lewis – it is hopelessly confused.”
“76. [..] Given that the Welsh language has official status in Wales […], it is to say the least highly regrettable that there were significant differences between the two language versions of these documents. A person reading such a document in either language is entitled to expect that there are no significant differences between the two language versions.”
Nia Môn, a parent representing Ymgyrch Pentrecelyn, said:
“We have made history today, ensuring that Denbighshire County Council is not allowed to downgrade the Welsh language status of our children’s school following such a deeply flawed process, full of basic errors. It has been a hard and expensive battle, but we did not take the Council to court solely for the benefit of our own children; we also did it to safeguard the interests of Welsh-language education across Wales. It beggars belief that the Council ever thought it appropriate to downgrade our children’s Welsh language education in such a Welsh-speaking area, but they added insult to injury by subjecting us to an unclear ‘consultation’ exercise that the court rightly described as “hopelessly confused”. The Welsh language, and local taxpayers, deserve much better than this. Having wasted tens of thousands of pounds of public money trying to defend its ‘hopeless’ decision-making in court, Denbighshire County Council now has an awful lot of work to do to regain the confidence of the parents and schoolchildren it has let down so badly.”
Gwion Lewis, a barrister at Landmark Chambers, London, who successfully acted for Ymgyrch Pentrecelyn in the judicial review, said:
“This is the first time that someone has taken legal action to try to prevent the closure of a Welsh-language school. The campaign group has been fully vindicated as the court found several legal errors in the Council’s decision-making process and ordered that the school cannot be closed as planned. Local education authorities across Wales will want to study this judgment carefully as it reinforces the importance of carrying out a credible Welsh language impact assessment whenever plans are advanced to change the arrangements for Welsh-language education.”
This case is also historically significant as it is only the second time, since the High Court was established in 1875, that a party has presented its case to the court in the Welsh language. The court circulated two language versions of its judgment this morning: one in English and the other in Welsh.