The High Court has ruled that Swansea Council acted unlawfully when making changes to faith school transport, after officers wrongly advised there was an absolute duty to provide free school transport to Welsh language schools.
Mr Justice Wyn Williams, presiding judge of the Wales Circuit, struck down a 2014 change of policy at the City and County of Swansea that would have seen the council continue to offer free transport to 12 Welsh language schools, but end it for the six faith schools.
Following complaints by parents at the faith schools, the Judge found that despite its equality impact assessment Swansea had been ignorant of the discriminatory effects of the policy.
While not meaning to discriminate, the council’s policy would have had that effect as students were overwhelmingly white in the Welsh language schools and more likely to be from black and minority ethnic communities. The ruling also noted that non-discriminatory alternatives such as means testing had not been properly considered.
Judge Williams said: ‘It seems to me that that the claimants are correct in their assertion that that BME children will be at a particular disadvantage as compared with white British children as a consequence of the amended policy even on the basis of the most favourable statistical analysis open to the defendant.
‘In summary 4.2% of white British children will enjoy the benefit of the amended policy compared with 1.15% of BME children; alternatively 95.8% of white British children will be disadvantaged by the amended policy compared with 98.9% BME children. The percentage difference in these scenarios - 3.1% - means that a BME child is 3.65 times more likely to be disadvantaged than a white British children.’
A Swansea council spokesman said: ‘The decision in the Judicial Review found against the Council and we are now considering its implications. The judgement is helpful in clarifying the legislation governing home to school transport. Even before the judgement was announced, Cabinet had been considering how best to move forward on this complex issue.
'Our aim is to bring forward further options which will address the education transport issues and place the support we are able to give on a fair and sustainable basis to helps those who are most in need. 'We believed it was important to defend a democratic decision taken by councillors to no longer continue with this area of discretionary free transport.
'The original decision contributed to savings in one of the few discretionary areas of spending within the overall education budget so resources could be prioritised on classrooms, teaching and facilities. The fact remains that the council must still find £81m of savings over the coming years and, in the light of the Judicial Review, we will need to consider where those savings may come from.
'Owing to the legal process there has been a period of uncertainty for young people and the schools involved and we’d like to apologise for that.'