Plaid AM calls for action on ‘independent schools arbitrator’

Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas has called on the Education minister to address calls for an independent Arbitrator for decisions on schools reorganisation as a matter of priority.

The Plaid AM who currently chairs the Rural Development Sub committee pointed to recommendations of the committee in November 2008 calling for the new role to be created. In a report the committee recommended that the Assembly government considers handing over responsibility for having the final say in disputes over school reorganisation to an independent arbitrator. Responding to the committee report, then Education Minister Jane Hutt agreed with this recommendation in principle. While the plan was not progressed at the time, Mr. Thomas is now calling on the current Minister, Leighton Andrews, to press ahead with the proposal.

Mr. Thomas said that disagreements such as recent concerns in Carmarthenshire over school reorganisation should not be allowed to have an impact on children’s education. He said the case underlined why a new workable system is needed in order to bring reorganisations to a timely conclusion in a fair way.

Plaid Cymru AM for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, said:

“The reorganisation of local schools is always an emotive issue especially when it will result in school closures. However local authorities have certain responsibilities including resolving problems of surplus school places and unfortunately, sometimes councils are left with no choice but to make very difficult decisions. Often school closures and mergers are deemed necessary, which can become very divisive within communities.

“It is only right that parents of pupils and teachers at schools threatened with closure have the right to appeal against any such plans. The government has accepted that an independent arbiter would then be a suitable person to make final decisions on such appeals. I urge the current Education Minister to look again at this recommendation in an effort to find a sustainable system for the future.

“Recent events have shown why an independent arbitrator for cases where school reorganisations could work. Disputes over reorganisation plans can get very bitter and divide communities. We have to ensure that these cases can be brought to an end in the fairest and most timely way.”

Local MP, Jonathan Edwards, said:

“We have seen a prime example here in Carmarthenshire of where offering parents the right to appeal against school reorganisation programs and having their concerns heard by an independent arbiter would be very beneficial.

One of the main complaints I have heard from people in the county unhappy with the way the Independent – Labour group at the council have approached school closures, is the lack of consultation there has been. Very often those involved have felt marginalised and their views ignored. I don’t think anyone could argue against teachers, parents and pupils having the right of an independent process of appeal.”

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