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Minister intervenes in Cardinal Vaughan row

By on Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Lord Lexden brought up the dispute over Cardinal Vaughan in the House of Lords (PA wire/Leon Neal)

Lord Lexden brought up the dispute over Cardinal Vaughan in the House of Lords (PA wire/Leon Neal)

A Government Minister has intervened in a row between Church authorities and parents at a top Catholic school in west London.

Education Minister Lord Hill said he would try to tighten regulations so that governing bodies have to include parents of children attending the school.

His statement came after the Diocese of Westminster refused to re-appoint any parent governors on the board of Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School.

Its decision was challenged by parents but the Court of Appeal ruled that the diocese had acted lawfully in rejecting two parents as governors. Instead the diocese appointed parents of children who attended other Catholic schools. Paul Barber, the diocesan director of education, is one of the new governors.

Lord Hill announced his intention in a letter to Lord Lexden, who had raised concerns about the treatment of Cardinal Vaughan parents in the House of Lords.

Lord Lexden, a Conservative peer, said that “vigilance is needed in protecting choice and rights which parents have long enjoyed”.

He said that parents of Cardinal Vaughan pupils were being “denied their proper role”. “This is a case which has implications for all 4,000 voluntary-aided schools in England,” he said. “The law needs to be clarified.”

According to Lord Hill’s letter, the regulations will be tightened in an amendment to the Education Bill currently passing through Parliament. Consultation on it will begin in the autumn.

The Vaughan Parents’ Action Group described the intervention as a “breakthrough”.
In a statement it claimed that the diocese had gone to “extraordinary lengths” to keep Vaughan parents out of the governing body and had “shamelessly exploited” a loophole in the law. It said: “We don’t understand why the diocese has been at such pains to exclude us, but we believe that it has in mind changes to Cardinal Vaughan which no parent there would want.”

The group urged supporters to appeal to Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster to appoint parent governors to the school before the recruitment of a new head teacher in the autumn.

Its statement said: “It is essential that everyone has confidence that the governing body is correctly constituted before it undertakes this most important task. Archbishop Nichols has the power to do this. He is clearly, in our view, morally obliged to do it.”

The battle for the control of Cardinal Vaughan began last year when the diocese rejected two parent governors and installed Mr Barber, its own director of education, on the board.

The move followed a fierce row over admissions criteria. In 2009 the diocese had reported the school to the Schools Adjudicator, arguing that it was in breach of the admissions code. The diocese stated that baptism should be the only religious criterion for admissions, whereas Cardinal Vaughan had asked if parents were involved in parish activities other than attending Mass. The Schools Adjudicator ruled that this was unlawful.

The school, in Kensington, south-west London, is heavily oversubscribed, turning down five out of every six applications.

Since the autumn parents have challenged the legality of the diocese’s appointments to the governing body in the High Court and in the Appeal Court. In both cases the judges backed the diocese.

The row escalated over the winter when Michael Gormally, the Vaughan’s retired headmaster, wrote a letter to Archbishop Nichols saying the diocese had treated the school “with contempt bordering on malice”.

Meanwhile, in April a meeting of the board of governors was interrupted because of parents and pupils holding a candle-lit vigil outside the gates and singing “Faith of our Fathers”.

The Vaughan Parents’ Action Group, formed last year, has peers, MPs, academics, lawyers and journalists as its patrons. The novelist Piers Paul Read, the former MP Ann Widdecombe, and Lord Lexden, who raised the issue in the House of Lords, are among them.

  • Sarah Johnson

    This is great news.
    Can I correct an inaccuracy. The governing body meeting in April was not adjourned because of the vigil. It carried on with its business after the parents and pupils left the school grounds in a very orderly fashion.

  • Sarah Johnson

    Also Paul Barber is not a parent governor.
    The loophole which the Diocese has exploited works like this: the definition of “parent” is loose and the Diocese has decided to stretch it to mean “anyone who has been a parent”…of any child at any school at all. Good practice and guidelines have hitherto dictated that at least 2 FOUNDATION governors (i.e those appointed by the Diocese) should be “parents”. The Diocese has chosen to ignore good practice and appoint no foundation governors who are current parents at the school. The only current parents on the governing body are the 5 elected parent governors – as these are directly elected by the parent body the Diocese can’t get rid of them.

  • The Catholic Herald

    Thanks for raising those points. The article has been amended.

  • Kate

    This is brilliant news. We  hope that Archbishop Nichols will now appoint current parents as foundation governors to the Cardinal Vaughan governing body.Parents need to have confidence that the appointment of a new Headteacher will be undertaken by a properly constitured governing body. 

    At the moment the 2 parent foundation governors at the Vaughan  are 1) a  parent whose children are  now adults and  2)a  parent of children who are at a  different  ( and non- Catholic  ) school.

    We believe the intention of the 2007 Regulations  was  always that  “parent”  governors should be “current parents” of a child at the school (unless that was not possible). We are very grateful that this ruling will now be clarified, not just for us but for all voluntary aided schools.

  • Vaughan Parent

    Currently, the majority of parents are rightly suspicious of the Diocese’s intentions towards the school.  This is an unhealthy situation and one which MUST be resolved before the process to recruit a new Head begins.  The Archbishop has always maintained that he wants the school ‘to continue to flourish’. It will not do so if the current situation is allowed to continue.  It is important that the situation is resolved now.  Doing nothing should not be considered an option.  

  • monica

    There are many different elements to the Cardinal Vaughan dispute with the Diocese. A key aspect is the fear parenst have that the new governing body will force changes on the school to “bring it in line” with all other Catholic schools. Paul Barber and the Diocese appear to  believe all Catholic schools should confrom in order to present  a “corporate identity”. Their model for Catholic education is based on an outdated left wing model and has little to do with religion. The Vaughan has a distinctive and authentic Catholic identity and parents  really wish to preserve it for others.

    The Diocese have tried to imply that this is a dispute solely about admissions in order to detract attention away from aspects of Catholic education that concern a wider group of parents.

  • Richard

    The Roman catholic church is not christion religious organisation but a powerbase for human indulgences.

  • Harper

    Great to hear this. Faithful Catholics should never hesitate as a last resort to use the cunning of this world if faced with unfaithful clericalist authoritarianism. If it takes the secular arm to restrain this, so be it. Ireland provides a recent example of this: a few years ago Bishop Magee of Cloyne was absolutely determined to gut Cobh Cathedral, a Pugin jewel and the last cathedral in Ireland to escape a vulgar Star Trek reordering, in spite of opposition from the faithful and instructions from Rome that no such innovation was required by Vatical II. The laity fought him through the planning board which ultimately forced him to yield, if with bad grace. Shortly afterwards, it was revealed that he had not properly dealt with child abuse cases, which are now about to become the source of yet more scandals. If he had spent a fraction of the energy he devoted to planning the destruction of Cobh Cathedral to seeing to those scandals, the damage would have been far less. Still, Cobh Cathedral has been preserved for future generations of Catholics by the planning board against a vandalising bishop. I hope that Mr Gove’s intervention achieves the same for the Cardinal Vaughan school.