The law on school organisation proposals in Wales is contained in the School Organisation and Standards (Wales) Act 2013 (SOSWA 2013). School organisation proposals are needed to open a new school, close an existing school, change the category of a school or make a regulated alteration. The SOSWA 2013 sets out who can make a proposal in relation to each type of proposal.
The SOSWA 2013 requires the Welsh Ministers to issue a statutory code on school organisation (the Code). The Code imposes requirements, and contains guidelines, in relation to school organisation proposals. The Code must be complied with by the Welsh Ministers, local authorities, governing bodies of maintained schools and other persons in connection with the proposals, when exercising functions under Part 3 of the SOSWA 2013.
The second edition of the Code came into force on 1 November 2018 and must be followed in relation to all proposals which commenced consultation on, and after, this date. However, if a proposer commenced consultation before 1 November 2018 the proposal must be published and determined in accordance with the first edition of the Code. Consultation will be considered to have commenced where a consultation document has been published. The second edition of the Code makes special arrangements for rural schools (defined within the Code), establishing a procedural presumption against the closure of rural schools.
Proposals must be consulted on in accordance with the SOSWA 2013 and the Code before they can be published. The consultation document must contain the information specified in the Code and consultees must be given at least 42 days to respond. The consultation is followed by formal publication of the proposals using statutory notices. The statutory notice is followed by a 28 day formal objection period. After that the proposer must publish an objection report which sets out the objections and the proposer’s responses. In the case of schools which have fewer than 10 pupils on roll, the closure process followed is shorter (the detail is contained in the SOSWA 2013 and the Code).
The body responsible for deciding whether a proposal should be implemented depends on who has made the proposal and what the proposal is. Often, the decision is made at local authority level, including their appeal. However, that is subject to the right given to key organisations in some instances to refer a local authority’s decision to the Welsh Ministers, who must consider the proposal afresh. The detail is contained in the SOSWA 2013 and the statutory code.