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Appeal court rules against Cardinal Vaughan parents

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.”