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Appeal court rules against Cardinal Vaughan parents

By on Thursday, 14 April 2011

The High Court in London (Anthony Devlin/PA)

The High Court in London (Anthony Devlin/PA)

The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Diocese of Westminster acted lawfully over the appointment of trustees to a prominent west London Catholic school.

The court handed down a majority judgment (full text) about the governing body of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School today, ruling that the Diocese of Westminster acted within the law when it refused to re-appoint two parents as foundation governors. The judges also ruled that the appointment of Paul Barber, the diocesan education director, to the schools’ governing body was legal.

The Vaughan Parents’ Action Group described the judgment as disappointing.

Anna Brown, chairman of the group, said: “Obviously the parents are very disappointed. But if the archbishop and his representatives are celebrating today, they are celebrating their cynical exploitation of a loophole in the law, which has allowed them to ensure that parents are not given proper representation on the governing body. This is not something to celebrate. They should actually be ashamed of themselves.

“The importance of the role of parents in their children’s education is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the teaching of the Catholic Church, but the Diocese of Westminster seems to take a different view.

“We will now be asking the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, to begin a process of change to the law because this judgment leaves Voluntary Aided schools potentially at the mercy of unscrupulous trustees and threatens to disenfranchise the very parents Mr Gove is so keen to see involved in the running of schools.”

The five elected parent governors brought the legal action against the diocese. Parents at the school set up the parents’ action group in order to support the elected parent governors in their legal battle. They fear the diocese will make radical changes to the school. The appointment of a new headmaster is pending, for the third time in 60 years.

Mrs Brown said: “The timing of this stacking of the governing body with diocesan placemen is no coincidence. Appointing a new head is the most serious task any governing body ever faces because the Head dictates the future direction of the school. We find it shocking that the diocese wants to prevent parents playing their full part in this process.”

Patrons of the parent action group also include well-known academics, lawyers and politicians, both Catholic and non-Catholic, including the former headmaster Michael Gormally, the Catholic peer Lord Alton and Edward Leigh MP, among others.

Mrs Brown said the group was determined to “leave no stone unturned, to take this campaign wherever it needs to go to hold fast that which is good at the Vaughan and to save Catholic education for our children and for our children’s children”.

The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School is a Catholic comprehensive school in Holland Park, and is one of the highest achieving state comprehensives in the country.

The Diocese of Westminster welcomed the ruling.

Westminster Auxiliary Bishop George Stack, chairman of the diocese’s education commission, said: “The Court of Appeal has clarified the law relating to the appointment of Foundation Governors to the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School and confirmed the legality of the appointment of four Foundation Governors in September 2010.”

“The Court of Appeal judgment, which upholds the ruling of the High Court in November 2010, shows that the diocese has acted responsibly and within the law. The diocese being the trustee and provider of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, it is for the archbishop to appoint foundation governors as a majority. Foundation Governors have the specific responsibility of preserving and developing the Catholic character of the school, as judged by the diocesan bishop. The Appeal Court has confirmed that the Diocese of Westminster has fulfilled this responsibility properly.

“Like the Appeal Court, we regret the wasteful court action brought against the Archbishop of Westminster by a number of parents associated with the Vaughan Parents’ Action Group. The diocese tried everything it could to avoid the recent court action, short of conceding the important points of principle. The diocese offered to ask our director of education to step down from the Governing Body and to appoint a current parent of the school to the governing body. We further offered to shoulder our share of the costs of the action, even though it was not initiated by us. All these offers were rejected and the diocese had no choice but to defend itself in court.”

“It is important to note that the ‘Vaughan Parents’ Action Group’ is not supported by the school. It is not to be confused with the Vaughan Parents Association, which is the recognised parents’ association. Rather, it is a campaign whose leaders include two former governors of the school and the former headmaster.”

“After two court hearings, both of which have found in favour of the Diocese of Westminster, it is now time for all involved in the life of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School to look to the future. The governing body is continuing in its task of governing the school and has now established admission criteria for the 2012-2013 academic year. In the light of this judgment and the progress being made by the governing body, I encourage parents who have the best interest of the school in mind to give their support to the governing body in its important work.”

  • Anonymous

    As Archbishop Nichols said recently (during his public lecture at Oscott College on March 28th), “Not everything that judges say makes sense.”

    It nevertheless remains open to His Grace to make peace in this troubled situation. Just because the Court of Appeal says that Mr Barber is lawfully appointed as a Foundation Governor, His Grace is not obliged to retain him; the Court’s decision that he need not find two parents of his choice who have children in the School to appoint as Foundation Governors does not preclude his doing so.

    In the best interests, not only of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, but of Catholic education throughout the Diocese, it is to be hoped that His Grace will find it in his heart to listen to parents.

  • fred

    London Evening Standard reports that the parent-governors’ appeal was dismissed and they were refused leave to take it to the Supreme Court. What will happen next?

  • Chrysostom

    The archdiocese of Westminster will find this a Pyrrhic victory. Canon law says this: “Can. 796 §1. §2. Parents must cooperate closely with the teachers of the schools to which they entrust their children to be educated; moreover, teachers in fulfilling their duty are to collaborate very closely with parents, who are to be heard willingly and for whom associations or meetings are to be established and highly esteemed.

    Can. 797 Parents must possess a true freedom in choosing schools;”

    By prolonging the attack on the Cardinal Vaughan School, the Archdiocese is giving almost daily publicity to the inadequacies of much Catholic education and how the bureaucrats of the diocesan organisations are distance from Catholic parents.

  • http://profiles.google.com/sarahcynthiajohnson Sarah Johnson

    Selecting on involvement was always the only fair way of choosing pupils for a ridiculously oversubscribed school such as the Vaughan – at least as long as the diocese of Westminster, under Paul Barber’s leadership, failed to raise other schools in London to its levels of achievement, high expectations and effective discipline. Involvement in the church was the one way in which poorer families, especially those with an unemployed person in the household, could really make a difference to their children’s prospects. I feel sick at heart that this system has been shut down. I feel sick for the future of this amazing school.

  • Anne

    Local schools for local kids

  • Anonymous

    The right of parents to express a meaningful preference for the school their children attend is enshrined, not only in Catholic teaching, but in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If parents are required to send their children to their local school, how can parental preference have any meaning at all?

    Furthermore, the Diocese claims to prefer criteria relating to applicants’ place of residence to criteria relating to applicants’ involvement in the life of the Church is “fairer”; they have never even attempted to explain how it is “fairer” for people who live in social housing, who have absolutely no ability to move, either nearer a good school, or away from a bad one.

    The Vaughan is a model of social inclusivity, because, by admitting children from all parts of London, it enables children from deprived parts of London like Brixton and Hackney to be educated alongside those from the affluet parts of Kensington and leafy suburbs like Richmond. Expectations are high for all pupils, regardless of their background; hence, 83% of boys on free school meals achieved 5 GCSEs at A*-C last year. To whom is it “fairer” to put a stop to this?

    Surely a better solution would be to devote the time and energy that is currently being lavished on making changes to the Vaughan to enabling other diocesan schools to become more like it. This would make the hundreds of parents who apply unsuccessfully to the Vaughan each year happier, and it would help many more children in the Diocese of Westminster to achieve their God-given potential.

  • onlooker

    Three headmasters in 60 years? They’re obviously doing something right!

  • onlooker

    Three headmasters in 60 years? They’re obviously doing something right!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    The moral high ground remains with the parents, not the Archdiocese. No matter what the law says. This a tawdry affair and totally unworthy( though unfortunately typical) of Church authorities.His Grace The Archbishop really needs to step up on this. His duty is to parents and children, not politics, Church or otherwise.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    It would seem to be a sickness in the Church these days that everything must be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. This seems to be true in Education, Music, and indeed liturgy. The present Holy Father seems intent in trying to reverse this trend. Ad Multos Annos.

  • SS1

    The diocese offered to ask Paul Barber to step down. This offer was refused by the Action Group. It also offered to appoint a current parent to the governing body, in addition to the five elected parent governors. This offer was also refused by the Action Group.

    http://www.rcdow.org.uk/education/default.asp?library_ref=8&content_ref=3317

    I’d suggest that the onus might now be on the Action Group to take steps to bury the hatchet. Sadly that doesn’t appear to be the current intention:

    “Mrs Brown said the group was determined to “leave no stone unturned, to take this campaign wherever it needs to go to hold fast that which is good at the Vaughan and to save Catholic education for our children and for our children’s children”.”

    When Mrs Brown starts using language such as “potentially at the mercy of unscrupulous trustees”, questioning the integrity of those she disagrees with, I think the Action Group have set out upon an unwise, ill-judged and aggressive route.

  • http://twitter.com/vaughanparents vaughanparentsaction

    Dear SS1
    We have issued a press release answering the many inaccuracies in the Diocesan statement you refer to. Please see our statement on http://www.savethevaughan.com.
    The legal action was conducted by the five parent governors and not the Vaughan Parents Action Group. No offer was ever made at any time to the Vaughan Parents Action Group by the Diocese. We were not and have never been in a position to negotiate, as the Diocese well knows, as we were not a party to the legal action. Indeed one of our main complaints is that the Diocese has totally ignored and excluded the Vaughan parents at every single opportunity – even to the extent of locking us out of our own childrens’ school. Please stand corrected.

  • Anonymous

    The offer to withdraw Mr Barber and to appoint one parent of a current pupil as a Foundation Governor was made as part of ‘without prejudice’ negotiations between the Diocese and the elected Parent Governors; it was the Parent Governors who brought the legal action, not the VPAG, which was not formed until after the first instance judgment was given. Incidentally, it is very odd to see the substance of these ‘without prejudice’ negotiations bandied about in the public prints, since they are supposed to remain confidential between the parties

    For the avoidance of doubt, the VPAG has never been a party to any negotiations with the Diocese; indeed they decline to talk to its representatives or even to answer letters from the group or from concerned parents. Neither has the VPAG been a party to any legal action; its sole founding purpose is to act as a support to the elected Parent Governors, in terms both of campaigning and of fundraising to help defray the costs of the action.

    The reason why this offer was rejected by the Parent Governors was because, with only one Foundation Governor with a child in the School, the Diocese would always have an unassailable majority, without the necessity of persuading even one parent of its point of view. This is an important point of principal because, although the appointing Foundation has an in-built majority on the governing body of any voluntary aided school, the requirement that two of that majority be parents of current pupils at the time of their appointment meant that the views of the “primary and principal educators” of their children could not simply be overridden.

    You say it is time for the VPAG to bury the hatchet; I would say that might become a possibility, if the Diocese were to come clean and tell parents plainly what their intentions for the School are. The Archbishop, in his public statements on the matter (usually made to the media rather than to parents), has referred to a desire to preserve the Catholic ethos, as well as the academic, musical and sporting excellence of the School, without ever giving the slightest hint of how he intends to accomplish this. Parents would have a great deal more confidence in that assurance if they could look around the Diocese and see many other schools with a similar ethos (and expression of it) and orientation towards excellence. To be blunt, parents find it difficult to believe that, if the Diocese wanted the School to continue to flourish as it has until now, it would have gone to the trouble of replacing governors who had been parents of children in the School when appointed with governors who had not (including its own Director of Education), thereby causing scandal, not only to parents, but to a broad section of the Catholic faithful who have no connection with the School. Parents are concerned that this single-minded determination to reduce the parental voice on the Governing Body foreshadows the introduction of policies with which parents would be expected to disagree.

    You complain of Mrs Brown’s reference to voluntary aided schools being “potentially at the mercy of unscrupulous trustees”. The judge who granted the Parent Governors leave to appeal did so on the grounds that the case raised important questions, and had implications for, every voluntary aided school in the country. It is a mistake, therefore, to infer from Mrs Brown’s words that she was referring to diocesan schools, or even Catholic schools; she was making a general point about hypothetical voluntary aided schools where the majority on the governing body could push through policies that were antithetical to the views of parents.

    It should be remembered that this situation is not the creation of the Vaughan parents, either before or after the formation of the Action Group. It was the Diocese, whose aggressive act in referring its own school, by any standards a jewel in its crown, to a secular authority, who initiated this sad situation. We must all pray for an early and just resolution.

  • chris

    This retired teacher believes parent power equals dumping down !

  • SS1

    Dear VPAG and Pattif,

    Thank you for your detailed and reasoned replies. Some comments in turn:

    1) Although the legal action was conducted by the five parent governors and not the Vaughan Parents Action Group, it is unreal to draw a distinction between those groups for the purpose of assessing the positions of the two parties to this dispute. Indeed, on the VPAG website the statement in response to the decision of the Court of Appeal states “we nevertheless wish to record our gratitude and admiration for our elected representatives on the Governing Body, who have shown great courage in bringing this legal action”. Hence VPAG itself regards the five parent governors as its representatives, and it is inconceivable that the parent governors would have accepted or refused an offer by the Diocese without at least the acquiescence, if not the full support, of VPAG. Therefore it is disingenuous, although strictly correct, to state that “No offer was ever made at any time to the Vaughan Parents Action Group by the Diocese. We were not and have never been in a position to negotiate, as the Diocese well knows, as we were not a party to the legal action.” The people VPAG regards as its representatives were a party, and that it what matters.

    2) Further to the above, it is misleading of VPAG, or other parents, to say that they have been ignored by the Diocese. Their representatives, in the persons of the five parent governors, are on the governing body of the school and as such cannot be ignored.

    3) It is not odd to see the substance of the ‘without prejudice’ negotiations aired in public once the matter has been decided by the court. Those negotiations remain confidential during proceedings in order to facilitate settlement, and a failure by one party to better in the judgment an offer it received without prejudice can have cost consequences for that party. However, once the case has been decided there is no bar to disclosure of the confidential discussions.

    4) If the reason that the Diocese’s offer was rejected by VPAG (despite a major complaint of VPAG, namely the presence of Mr Barber on the governing body, being addressed) was because the Diocese would still have a majority, then this shows that the VPAG campaign is fundamentally about existing parents exerting control of the school. In my time I attended both a Catholic state school and an independent grammar school (both very highly regarded) and in neither case did parents of children at the school exert such decisive influence. The presence of 5 parent governors on the board, plus an additional foundation governor also a parent at the school if the Diocese’s offer had been accepted, ensures considerable representation by the parents on the School’s governing body. Evidently this was not enough for the parent governors and VPAG.

    5) Nothing I have seen from the Archbishop or the Diocese has indicated to me that their intention is to drag down the excellent Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School – perhaps you could point me in the direction of documents which do show such an intention?

    6) As a Catholic onlooker living in London but with no connection to the School, I strongly believe it is time for this dispute to be resolved respectfully, calmly and in a true spirit of charity and humility, and as soon as possible. No doubt this will involve efforts on both sides. As I stated in my earlier post, references to “unscrupulous trustees”, even if intended to apply to schools that have nothing to do with the present dispute (and, if so, it would be better for Mrs Brown not to mention them and focus on the business in hand), can only raise the temperature. Pattif refers to “scandal” caused by the Diocese appointing to the board people who were not parents of children at the school. This is far from scandalous and is, indeed, normal practice in many schools. What is scandalous is to see groups of Catholics, each of which appear to be genuinely committed to the Faith and acting sincerely, fighting each other in court, in the media and through demonstrations. It must stop.

  • SS1

    Dear VPAG and Pattif,

    Thank you for your detailed and reasoned replies. Some comments in turn:

    1) Although the legal action was conducted by the five parent governors and not the Vaughan Parents Action Group, it is unreal to draw a distinction between those groups for the purpose of assessing the positions of the two parties to this dispute. Indeed, on the VPAG website the statement in response to the decision of the Court of Appeal states “we nevertheless wish to record our gratitude and admiration for our elected representatives on the Governing Body, who have shown great courage in bringing this legal action”. Hence VPAG itself regards the five parent governors as its representatives, and it is inconceivable that the parent governors would have accepted or refused an offer by the Diocese without at least the acquiescence, if not the full support, of VPAG. Therefore it is disingenuous, although strictly correct, to state that “No offer was ever made at any time to the Vaughan Parents Action Group by the Diocese. We were not and have never been in a position to negotiate, as the Diocese well knows, as we were not a party to the legal action.” The people VPAG regards as its representatives were a party, and that it what matters.

    2) Further to the above, it is misleading of VPAG, or other parents, to say that they have been ignored by the Diocese. Their representatives, in the persons of the five parent governors, are on the governing body of the school and as such cannot be ignored.

    3) It is not odd to see the substance of the ‘without prejudice’ negotiations aired in public once the matter has been decided by the court. Those negotiations remain confidential during proceedings in order to facilitate settlement, and a failure by one party to better in the judgment an offer it received without prejudice can have cost consequences for that party. However, once the case has been decided there is no bar to disclosure of the confidential discussions.

    4) If the reason that the Diocese’s offer was rejected by VPAG (despite a major complaint of VPAG, namely the presence of Mr Barber on the governing body, being addressed) was because the Diocese would still have a majority, then this shows that the VPAG campaign is fundamentally about existing parents exerting control of the school. In my time I attended both a Catholic state school and an independent grammar school (both very highly regarded) and in neither case did parents of children at the school exert such decisive influence. The presence of 5 parent governors on the board, plus an additional foundation governor also a parent at the school if the Diocese’s offer had been accepted, ensures considerable representation by the parents on the School’s governing body. Evidently this was not enough for the parent governors and VPAG.

    5) Nothing I have seen from the Archbishop or the Diocese has indicated to me that their intention is to drag down the excellent Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School – perhaps you could point me in the direction of documents which do show such an intention?

    6) As a Catholic onlooker living in London but with no connection to the School, I strongly believe it is time for this dispute to be resolved respectfully, calmly and in a true spirit of charity and humility, and as soon as possible. No doubt this will involve efforts on both sides. As I stated in my earlier post, references to “unscrupulous trustees”, even if intended to apply to schools that have nothing to do with the present dispute (and, if so, it would be better for Mrs Brown not to mention them and focus on the business in hand), can only raise the temperature. Pattif refers to “scandal” caused by the Diocese appointing to the board people who were not parents of children at the school. This is far from scandalous and is, indeed, normal practice in many schools. What is scandalous is to see groups of Catholics, each of which appear to be genuinely committed to the Faith and acting sincerely, fighting each other in court, in the media and through demonstrations. It must stop.

  • SS1

    Please see my response below to Pattif.

  • Redrafa

    Dear SS1
    I’d like to comment on some of the points you make.
    In point 2 you assert that the Diocese cannot ignore the views of the Parent Governors, but such is their majority that that is precisely what they are doing.
    In point 4 you state that the VPAG campaign is about, ‘existing parents exerting control of the school’. With 2 parent governors there would only be 7 parent governors on a Governing Body of 20. How can they control the school? To do so they would have to work with other groups, the LEA rep and the Staff governors. Isn’t such co-operation desirable? Currently the Diocese don’t have to, and aren’t, working with the other groups but ignoring them
    As to point 5 it would be remarkable if we could point to documents which show the intention to drag down the school. The Diocese would have to be exceptionally foolish to put such documents in the public domain. However, as pattif said, why make the changes, if you don’t want to change the school?

  • http://profiles.google.com/sarahcynthiajohnson Sarah Johnson

    The Diocese has posted a statement on its website which makes much of an offer last year to stand Paul Barber down and replace him with a current parent. There are 3 things to say about it: 1. it was apparently contained in confidential pre-trial “without prejudice” negotiations with the elected parent governors and it is extremely unethical of the Diocese to publicise it; 2. it would have still meant the Diocese had a majority – the correct number of current foundation parents should be two, not one; 3. There is nothing to stop Mr Barber resigning any time he likes. He doesn’ t need the parent governors’ permission, or the VPAG’s!
    The diocese makes a lot of other inaccurate remarks in its website statement such as saying that the VPAG is led by “two ex-governors”…they seem not to have noticed that our longest-serving patron, Sir Adrian Fitzgerald, is not an ex-governor but is the Royal Borough of Kensington’s current representative on the Governing Body!

  • Justin Wong

    With reference to point 5 – I don’t have any documents to hand but the Diocese’s commitment to academic, musical and religious excellence would hold more water if the other diocesan schools were actually academically rigorous. How many of the other Catholic comprehensives in inner-city London have a world-renowned Schola Cantorum, or have 13 of their Upper Sixth students off to Oxbridge I wonder?

  • burrito

    SS1 – Never argue with a zealot. You will never win. You may present the most reasoned argument the world has heard since the time of Soloman but if the other person is too busy defending their point of view then it is pointless.

    As another impartial observer it seems that the level of hysteria and presumption has moved up several notches to the faintly ridiculous. Below in the comments pattif states that “the right of parents to express a meaningful preference for the school their children attend is enshrined, not only in Catholic teaching, but in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” – Presumably this was subsection 1012.3 paragraph b. Out of interest paragraph c explored the right of parents to have maple syrup on their pancakes and not to be forced to accept jif lemon as a substitute.

    Grow up children. Human rights are about the dignaty of the individual and their right to live (without being killed by the state) safely and free (without being imprisoned by the state) and their right to hold certain opinions and beliefs (without the state doing nasty things to them). The act was not and is not a big stick with which to beat people round the head for the henious crime of disagreeing with you whilst shouting “It is my human right”.

    You have the right to worship and profess your faith in a country that does not send people to kick your door down at one o clock in the morning and drag you away for doing it. THAT is a human right.

    As has been said on here – grow up and move on. The longer this lasts the more hamstrung the eventual goveners and trustees will be as they will not be able to make ANY decision for fear of a protest group forming.

    Its holy week now – concentrate on what actually matters.

  • Anonymous

    Is this matter ever going to end? Are the action group going to follow this, snapping at the Archbishops’ heels for the next two decades? There has to be closure.
    I feel sorry for the children of these parents. As prime educators of their children are they really doing their best for them when every waking moment must be consumed with the acrimony surrounding this battle with the Archdiocese. What exactly are these parents relating to their children about the Archdiocese and the clergy involved and what are the children picking up at home?
    Time to concede that they are never going to win this one, best concentrate their time and efforts on teaching their children about the faith.

  • Anonymous

    Listen, it’s about time somebody “snapped” at this Archbishop’s heels – he’s so busy promoting the “gay” Masses in Soho and telling his critics to “hold their tongues” (sheer nerve) that it’s good to see somebody, even a small group of parents – standing up to his bullying tactics.

    Keep up the pressure, folks.

  • Chjklnps

    When it comes to faith, schools and parents should not be in conflict with one another, but when they are, the parents should have the final say. Parents are the first educators of their children. Schools are there to reinforce and consolidate the work which parents begin in faith. There is a fundamental contradiction in faith schools promoting themselves on the basis of the material achievements of their pupils. The central question is not about academic success, but what proportion of pupils celebrate mass and receive Holy Communion each week. Children who have faith have it because they learn it at home in their family but unfortunately even Catholic schools are places where childrens’ faith can be undermined rather than strengthened, because of the unashamedly secular ethos they encounter. Anything promoted beyond its station is in danger of becoming an idol, and when it comes to faith, parents are much more important than schools. Catholic schools are not the centre of the Christian Community. The Eucharist is the centre of the Christian Community and there is a lot more to being a Catholic parent than sending your children to a Catholic school.