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Council faces High Court legal challenge over school closure as part of county-wide restructuring plan

A county council is facing a legal challenge over its decision to close a school as part of restructuring of its education system.

Somerset County Council has decided to change its three-tier education system of first, middle and upper schools, to a two-tier model for primary and secondary schools.

As part of this decision, Misterton Church of England First School will be closed, leaving the village without a school.

Taylor Larcombe, whose six-year old daughter attends the school, has instructed law firm Irwin Mitchell to bring a legal challenge.

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The firm, which has instructed barristers Steve Broach and Gethin Thomas of 39 Essex Chambers, said it would be challenging the lawfulness of the decision and the preceding consultation process.

Ms Larcombe said: “Closing our local school is the wrong decision. The changes fail to fully take the impact on the community and our children’s education into account and will be devastating for all connected with the school.

“It’s telling that there was never an option in the consultation for Misterton First School to remain open, which leads me to believe a decision was made on the school’s fate, notwithstanding the consultation process. Misterton First School was also denied the opportunity to convert to a primary school, when others in the area were given this opportunity.

“I feel we need scrutiny by the court of this decision, the public consultation and how far statutory guidance was followed. I question how much genuine engagement with the community there has been to date.”

Irwin Mitchell solicitor Rachael Louise Smurthwaite said: “Proposals to reorganise and close schools are seldom straightforward and it’s important the concerns of communities and parents are heard and taken fully into account when these issues are being considered. We have identified legal grounds to bring the case before the High Court.

“In public consultations, the county council only put forward a single restructuring option which involved closing Misterton First School. There was no alternative put to consultees which included keeping the school open.

“My client feels strongly that the decision was therefore predetermined. In formulating these proposals, the council, failed to take proper account of the impact on children’s education and the presumption against closure of rural schools."

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.

"We can confirm we have received a set of proceedings. We do not agree with the allegations made but will respond by way of the legal process. Information about our plans is available on our website: www.somerset.gov.uk/crewkerne-and-ilminster-strategic-school-review.”

 

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