Assembly seeks to speed up slashing surplus places
The time given to local authorities to sort out school reorganisation plans is to be slashed by half, under proposals announced by the Assembly government.
Officials want the process - which currently takes local councils up to three months - overhauled so that plans to cut surplus places can be put to the education minister for a decision more quickly.
A consultation on the change was launched this week amid an outcry over a school that has been forced to stay open despite having no pupils.
Education minister Leighton Andrews described as "completely bonkers" the news that Ysgol Capel Iwan in Carmarthenshire has to remain active at a cost of pound;110,000 because the council had not consulted on its closure.
The head, a teacher, a caretaker and a lunchtime assistant will all continue to be employed by the school until at least December.
Local authorities are currently given two months to gather objections to school reorganisations and then a month to put together their responses before submitting them to the Assembly government. That process will be cut to six weeks, under the consultation.
But teaching unions have complained that "serious delays" are being caused by the Assembly, rather than councils, with officials taking up to a year to decide on proposals.
Rex Phillips, Wales organiser of teaching union the NASUWT, said: "I think the more serious delays with the proposals take place at the government end, not with the local authority.
"Giving local authorities two weeks to process objections is putting a great deal of pressure on them, but the minister doesn't seem to want to put the same kind of pressure on himself.
"It may be that there is some merit in speeding up the process but we have to balance that with everybody being able to have their say. I think the new time frames are too short."
The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has campaigned for a change in the existing regulations, which date from 1999, as part of a "more sensible approach" to the objection system.
Many local authorities would prefer that a minimum number of objections are required to trigger the process, rather than the single objection it currently takes.
A WLGA spokeswoman said: "At the moment it's an incredibly complex process that needs to be made easier for authorities. They are constantly getting criticism from Estyn and the Assembly government about their ability to tackle surplus places promptly. But part of that is the process they must go through first."
The spokeswoman criticised the NASUWT's suggestion that the Assembly needs to make decisions more quickly.
"We wouldn't want the government to make hasty decisions if they are stuck for time," she said. "We want to make sure any decisions that come out are the right decisions."
Mr Andrews said the proposals would end uncertainty for parents, pupils, teachers and local authorities. The consultation will run until November 5.
In the Carmarthen case, Mr Andrews blamed the council for delaying the process despite knowing about the falling school roll, while the council blamed the Assembly government's procedures.
- Original headline: Assembly seeks to speed up process to slash surplus places