Education Minister Leighton Andrews today took steps to force the closure of a “failing” city school in a radical move never seen before in Wales.
Mr Andrews has told Cardiff council he is considering using his ministerial powers to order the closure of Llanrumney High School a year ahead of schedule, in August.
He believes the troubled school – adjudged by education watchdog Estyn as requiring “special measures” – is beyond help and should close sooner.
A four-week consultation period – to “test” Mr Andrews’ views – is set to be launched later this month, after which a final decision on the school’s future will be taken.
But teachers’ leaders last night hit out at the minister’s surprise announcement, branding it “appalling” that school staff only found out their jobs were under threat through the rumour mill.
In a written statement released yesterday, Mr Andrews said: “Today, I have written to the local authority advising them that I am considering using [my] power to direct them to close Llanrumney High School from August 2013.
“I have asked the authority to respond to this proposal outlining in detail if they feel they would be able to achieve closure effectively within this timeframe.”
In December, Cardiff council approved plans to move all pupils at Llanrumney High to nearby Rumney High School from September 2013.
The schools would work together as part of an Education Improvement Partnership (EIP) but remain as two separate entities for the first year before closing in September 2014.
Welsh ministers have the power under section 19 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to direct a local authority to close a school which requires special measures.
Mr Andrews warned in 2011 that where schools are found by Estyn to be failing and the situation is “irredeemable”, he would close them.
Cardiff council is currently examining six different potential sites for a new replacement secondary school in the east of the city.
Mr Andrews said: “While I recognise that in this instance the authority is taking positive action to close a failing school, it is my concern that the timeframe of closure by August 2014 is too drawn out and does not ensure the closure of Llanrumney quickly enough.
“The standards of education currently provided by Llanrumney are unsatisfactory and the numbers on roll are falling.
“The school’s prospects for improvement are judged by Estyn to be unsatisfactory raising questions as to the school’s ability to improve standards.
“It is my belief, which I intend to test via the consultation process, that closing Llanrumney earlier will benefit its pupils. For the authority, having a single school to improve may place them in a better position to support and drive forward improvements.”
Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, AM for South Wales Central, described the news as “another blow for long-suffering parents and the Llanrumney community”.
He said: “There is still far too much uncertainty for pupils, parents and teachers who are at the coalface striving to improve results.
“Pupils deserve to receive a first class education that is fit for the 21st century, and presently they are being badly let down by those with the power to deliver that.”
David Evans, secretary of NUT Cymru, which represents teachers at Llanrumney High, said it was not the plans to close the school that came as a shock, but the speed at which they are expected to go ahead.
He said: “It is frankly appalling that teachers only found out about this news as a result of the rumour mill.
“We are talking about the livelihood of many individuals, not to mention the education of the students at both Llanrumney High and Rumney High.”
Llanrumney’s Labour councillor Keith Jones, who sits on the school’s board of governors, said: “It’s obviously a sad day for the school after a 50-year existence.
“We knew that it was coming, in that it was due to close in 2014.
“As a Llanrumney representative, what we want to ensure is that the children do not just turn up at their once-rival school. There are obviously tensions and issues there, so I would like so see the new identity of the school emerge, hopefully with a new uniform.”
Parents outside the school yesterday reacted angrily to the announcement.
Nicola Page, 43, said: “I think it’s a shame because the [current] site is better than the other sites they’re looking at.
“It’s good for gym because they can run around the Taff and they can use the university fields. Obviously it needs doing up because it’s in a terrible state – but I am disappointed.”
A spokeswoman for Cardiff council said: “Cardiff council has today received notification that the Welsh minister for education Leighton Andrews has used his powers to begin a consultation regarding the closure of Llanrumney High School.
“We have already been in discussion with the minister’s office and will of course engage fully in his consultation, which is due to commence on February 27.
“Since the election of this administration last May, we have enjoyed a positive and constructive relationship with Leighton Andrews.
“For instance, he has already made significant additional resources available to Cardiff council to support the development of the EIP in the east of city. This continues as planned.”