BY ED WEST
PARENTS at the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in west London have been granted leave to appeal by the High Court in the latest round of their battle with the Diocese of Westminster.
The court had earlier ruled against the nine elected parent governors of the flagship Catholic west London school after they had taken the trustees of the school to court.
The parents took the action over the diocese’s decision not to appoint any current parents in the school as foundation governors, after losing six in two years, and the appointment of its own director of education, Paul Barber, to the governing body. Mr Barber was the diocesan official responsible for referring Cardinal Vaughan to the Office of the Schools’ Adjudicator, in a row over admissions policy at the heavily over-subscribed school.
In a judgment in the High Court on November 25 last year the diocese was ruled to have acted lawfully. But last week Lord Justice Sullivan granted the parent governors leave to appeal on both counts: the diocese’s decision not to appoint parents and its appointment of Mr Barber. He said the case raised important points of principle which could affect the composition of all schools where the governors are appointed by a foundation body.
The parents object to what they describe as the “diocese’s consistent failure, over the past few years, to observe its own policy on consultation before appointing foundation governors”, its referral of the school to the Office of the Schools’ Adjudicator and the appointment of a chairman of governors of another school, the nearby Sion Manning school in North Kensington.
The appeal will be heard on March 9. Meanwhile, the foundation governors plan to interview candidates for headmaster in the first week of February.
The escalating conflict between Westminster diocese and one of its most prestigious schools is likely to pose a difficult challenge for Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster. The Vaughan is one of the top comprehensives in inner London and one of the best grant-maintained Catholic schools in the country, with 90 per cent of pupils securing five or more GCSE passes last year. The figure for pupils receiving free school meals was 83 per cent.
Former headmaster Michael Gormally, who retired last summer due to ill health, wrote a strongly worded letter to Archbishop Nichols in December, saying: “A lot of people think that the diocese has treated the Vaughan at least high-handedly, if not with contempt bordering on malice. To their mind the school has been singled out for special treatment.
“I might add that they will be confirmed in this belief by events a recent governors’ meeting – I understand that the attitude adopted by one of your appointees was unfortunate in the extreme – and not least by the astonishing decision of your representatives to appoint to the chairman ship one who is already chairman of a nearby Catholic school.” The parent governors have written to Education Secretary Michael Gove to seek his urgent intervention to stop the appointment going ahead of a new headmaster.
They are also appealing to the local education authority to use its influence to stop what they claim is an illegally constituted governing body from making a decision.
The Vaughan Parents Action Group is also planning a candlelit vigil during the next governors’ meeting at the school on February 2. Pupils from the school are planning to sing hymns and play instruments in support of the parents’ group.
Parent governor Jim King said: “We’ve always thought we had a good case. They haven’t followed the 2007 statutory guidelines by appointing current parents as foundation governors. It’s part of the statutory regulations.
“There’s a cascade to follow: you appoint current parents [and] if you can’t find that you appoint a parent of a pupil who has left the school, and then any parents.
“B and C are used only when A is unavailable. We had three current parents as foundation governors who were not appointed. They appointed people from category B and C.
“I cannot see how the appointment of the head can go ahead when there is a doubt over the legality of the gov erning body. It’s amazing that there is such a rush. We have a very competent caretaker head [Charles Eynaud] with 42 years’ teaching experience. It beggars belief.” But even if the governing body is ruled to be illegal its appointment of a headmaster would still stand.
Mr King also cited what he claimed was a conflict of interest for Mr Barber, who is both a governor and head of the diocese’s education department, since the school is in dispute with the diocese over a building. A spokesman for the diocese said: “The Diocese of Westminster will contest the appeal which does not prevent the governing body from continuing to meet to carry out its many responsibilities.”