Closure of Wigan primary school may break the law, council is cautioned

The closure of a community school in Wigan may be unlawful, the National Secular Society has warned.
Abram Bryn Gates Primary SchoolAbram Bryn Gates Primary School
Abram Bryn Gates Primary School

Abram Bryn Gates is one of two schools in the Platt Bridge area which is being considered for closure by the council due to falling pupil numbers.

Members of the public have been asked to have their say on which should survive while both schools are fighting to stay open and teachers’ unions say that neither should shut.

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The situation is further complicated by the fact that the other school - Holy Family RC Primary - is currently in the process of becoming an academy.

Cath PealingCath Pealing
Cath Pealing

If it happens soon enough, this would take it out of Wigan Council control and so only leave it Abram Bryn Gates to close, regardless of public opinion.

But in a consultation response on the proposed school reorganisation, the NSS said the loss of secular provision resulting from closing Abram Bryn Gates may result in Wigan Council being in breach of their obligation to provide pupils with a suitable education.

The Education Act 1996 places a duty on local authorities to provide schools sufficient in number and character to provide for all pupils the opportunity of “appropriate education.”

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The response also highlighted the significant risk of undermining human rights, particularly Article 9 of the Human Rights Act which protects the right to freedom of thought, belief and religion.

NSS says itis research has shown that 81 per cent of postcodes in Wigan experience high or extreme restrictions on the choice of a non-faith primary school. And this affects 90 per cent of postcodes in the Abram ward – a figure that would approach 100 per cent if Abram Bryn Gate were to close, as five of its nearest six schools are faith-based. This would leave many families with no choice but a faith school.

NSS head of education, Alastair Lichten, said: “Far too many families in Abram and across Wigan, already have no choice but a faith school. Increasing this problem by closing Abram Bryn Gates would raise serious questions about the council’s legal obligation to ensure adequate school provision.

“All pupils should have reasonable access to a local schools organised around an inclusive community ethos, rather than a religious belief that they may not share.”

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One Bryn Gates parent told the NSS: “Closing this school would not only devastate pupils and staff but rip the heart out of the community too. Choice of non-faith schools is already limited for parents.”

Another parent said: “My children love this community school, the alternative options are miles away and are faith schools. I want my children to make their own decisions with regard to religion, rather than have it forced down their throats at a young age.”

Bryn Gates executive headteacher Gillian Talbot declined to comment on the latest development, but referred the Wigan Post to the statement she issued last month.

It read: “The community around Abram Bryn Gates Community Primary are devastated that the school may be forced to close.

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Parents choose to send their children here from all over the area due to our family feel and nurturing environment. In the last two years a number of children have moved from other local schools to Abram Bryn Gates due to its excellent reputation in the area.

“The LA have spent a significant amount of money on refurbishing the building over the last two years so to close us now would be a wasteful use of resources.

“Wigan has a very high number of faith schools so to close Abram Bryn Gates would deny parents of their choice to send their child to a non-faith school. There are no community schools close by with enough spaces for all the Abram Bryn Gates children to attend. Children of all faiths are welcome to attend Abram Bryn Gates as there are no expectations around church attendance or baptism into a faith.

“Our families do not want to send their children to a Catholic school so closing Abram Bryn Gates is highly unlikely to lead to a rise in numbers at Holy Family.

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“The staff, parents, governors and local community will continue to fight for Abram Bryn Gates to remain open as we believe the school is an integral part of the community and is viable as a smaller school for now whilst the birth rate is lower and can grow again once the birth rate increases as it always does eventually.”

And Cath Pealing, assistant director for education at Wigan Council, said: “The local authority has a duty to review all school places to ensure they are sufficient which includes the oversupply as well as shortage of places.

“We are carrying out a consultation to consider our options for how we can address the surplus of places in this area and would encourage all stakeholders to give their views at this stage. All of the information collected will be considered.”

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