Supporting Families
  • banner13
  • banner4
  • banner2
  • banner6
  • banner12
  • banner9
  • banner7
  • banner11
  • banner3
  • banner10
Wednesday, 17 June 2020 23:45

St Thomas Catholic Primary School, Sevenoaks - Headteacher on 'Special Leave'

Update 25th July: I have now been sent a copy of a letter sent to parents and carers at the school informing them that Mrs Aquina is to return to her post in September. See below.  

Last month (14th June), all I knew about St Thomas’ Catholic Primary School in Sevenoaks, was that it had an Outstanding Ofsted Report dating back to 2014, was an averagely performing school in terms of Progress levels, usually had one of the highest proportion of pupils in the county passing the Kent Test (dipping in 2019), and just about filled in most years. I then published an article about the travails of the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership (KCSP) and the ‘unexpected absence’ of its Chief Executive. Leading on from this I was informed about the crisis at the school, a member of the Partnership. The headteacher, Mrs Aquilina, had been placed on Special Leave until the end of the academic year as the Partnership’s ‘Immediate priority as a Trust must be the children and staff of St Thomas’. This is now a major revision of the article I wrote to follow up the Pandora’s Box of outcomes that emerged followed this revelation, including the ‘voluntary absence’ of her husband, Father Aquilina, from his parish. 

St Thomas Sevenoaks

Between them, the two articles have now clocked up over  22,000 visitors in less than a month, an unprecedented number over the 15 years this site has been in existence. The host of comments at the foot amplify a number of the issues. I have reorganised the comments posted after the two articles to the one most appropriate for the content and have indicated where this has happened, although they are no longer in full date order. Items specific to the Partnership are now being transferred to the original article for clarity.

The St Thomas’ story continues below. I also look at the intriguing story of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which appears to have played a significant part in the background, although not of direct relevance to the absence of Mrs Aquilina.

If you have safeguarding concerns affecting a child at any school, contact Social Services here

You will find a copy of the letter to parents of St Thomas from the Chairman of KCSP announcing the absence of Mrs Aquilina, dated today 17th June, here. A follow-up letter dated 24th July informs parents and carers that she is to return to her post in September. Understandably, it makes no mention of the circumstances of her absence so, if there was a disciplinary action we do not know if it was heard or abandoned. Strangely there has been no mention of the role of Kent County Council in all this, although they have legal responsibility for Safeguarding matters in schools, including academies. 

I do not consider it appropriate to outline the details of the alleged safeguarding incident that has brought a number of issues to a head, although you will find reference to it in the comments below. I need to make clear that it is not of the common nature of such allegations and has nothing to do with child abuse.  However, if the case is as described to me, it would represent a serious breach of both safeguarding legislation and of lockdown requirements and almost certainly lead to disciplinary action. I understand there is also a separate allegation, although I am not clear if this is part of any investigation. 

I have seen many letters informing parents of the enforced or unexpected absence of headteachers, but not one before that explains in such clarity that it is because ‘Our immediate priority as a Trust must be the children and staff of St Thomas’. Mrs Aquilina is now ‘on special leave until the end of the academic year’, presumably whilst a disciplinary investigation takes place into the circumstances.

In the meantime, an Acting Headteacher has been brought in to run the school in her absence. He is Mr Chris Wright, currently Executive Principal of: St Gregory's Catholic Primary, Margate; St Joseph's Catholic Primary, Broadstairs; & St Mary's Catholic Primary, Whitstable, all within KCSP. Staff at the school have been told that any approach to them by Mrs Aquilina should be reported immediately to senior staff without exception, confirming the seriousness of the matter.

Although there are some families passionately loyal to the headteacher of St Thomas’, a very significant minority are articulate in concerns about Mrs Aquilina and the involvement of her husband in the affairs of the school, dating back several years.

Parent View and Ofsted
There was a strong indication of concerns at the school in 2018-19, when 42 parental comments were lodged on the Ofsted Parent View website for that year. This reportedly followed a drive from the school to encourage parents to express a view, as Ofsted might be coming in the near future. In the event, over half of the respondents disagreed with both of the views that 'This school is well led and managed', and that 'This school responds to well to any concerns I raise'. In both cases, the majority view is ‘strong disagreement’. In addition, only 52% of respondents 'would recommend this school to another parent'.  There were a negligible number of responses in other years which is not at all uncommon, so it looks as if the school scored a big own goal. Over the years I have scanned a large number of such surveys but have never seen anything nearly as negative as this, not even in failing schools. Ofsted last inspected St Thomas' in 2014 under a previous headteacher, before it became an academy, and found the school Outstanding.  However, the Parent View data should have meant the school was in line for an urgent inspection and probably has evaded it because of lockdown. 
 
Online Petition at Change.Org
This petition is entitled 'Keep our Headteacher at St Thomas's and prevent a KCSP cluster with other schools'. I have also been sent a view of the petition from the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership, as follows:
 
I don't really understand the first paragraph but I have told parents we are trying to resolve the situation as quickly as we can and will tell them the outcome then, with such details as we can within the law and individuals' right to privacy and protection of their personal data.
The suggestion we are "using" the situation for other purposes is just not true. We were presented with a situation which we are trying to deal with in accordance with the law and best practice, nothing more nothing less.
On the last two paragraphs, parents are entitled, of course, to disagree with what we do but our motives are always to support staff in our schools to give the best education and care they can to the children in their charge. That's our "business".
I will comment specifically on the governors' fund (I.e. primarily parental contributions). We introduced a reserves policy a little while ago. This explicitly leaves the control and use of these funds in the control of the local governing body of each school, including those in clusters, takes it out of the general policy on the use of reserves and introduced a mechanism to ensure governors account to parents annually on how the fund is used. In short, we have built stronger protections around these funds than previously existed to ensure they are used only for the purposes the money was given.
Mike Powis: Chair of the Trust Board
 
So, the claim in the first paragraph of the petition is false.
 
If the incident described in Paragraph Two is as widely reported elsewhere, it would be a serious breach of Safeguarding Regulations by the person responsible for Safeguarding in the school and would rightly lead to suspension and disciplinary action. If this had been resolved, then there would be no reason for her continued absence.
 
If this is where it is, then the concern in Paragraphs Three and Four is misguided. I am familiar with many such cases and they always take considerable time. A recent one elsewhere in the county, reported on this site, went on for over six months. The widely unpopular plan to bring the schools together in clusters has been scrapped under the instruction of the Archbishop, with the CEO who tried to introduce it currently on a lengthy unexplained absence (probably itself a suspension), which if it isn't should surely be in the public arena.
 
Of course, the previous proposal referred to in Paragraph Five not to allow pupils to sit the Kent test on-site championed by the now absent CEO was also scrapped by a different Archbishop, being widely unpopular with Trust Schools, with recent actions by the Trust indicating it is now heading in a different direction and keen to respond to individual school concerns - or if not there would be a wider rebellion! Any concern about the Governors' Fund, appears to be fully addressed by Mr Powis in his statement. 
 
I am sure that all concerned agree with the last paragraph of the petition. 
 
It is very easy to sign up to an online petition, and I am aware of people who look at all those available and happily sign up to those they like the look of, whether or not they know any of the background. It appears in this case that a legal procedure may be proceeding, in which case this would be an irrelevance.  
 
 
Father Aquilina
As a point of information, married Anglican priests who converted to Catholicism have been welcomed into the church since the 1950s. Nine years ago, in a high profile case, Father Aquilina and many of his congregation left their Anglican church at a time when a  number of other clergy also converted, often because of their opposition to women and gay priests.

He is now the vicar of the Catholic Parish of St John the Baptist, Westerham, and St Theresa of the Infant Jesus, Biggin Hill, but according to a statement from the Archbishop, posted on the parish website, ‘has voluntarily withdrawn from active ministry. This is part of a process following consultation with the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO)’. The statement also records that ‘the Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Southwark take safeguarding seriously’. The Kent LADO is responsible for investigating allegations against staff who work with children but as far as I am aware there is no suggestion of child abuse and this is also likely to be because of a safeguarding issue connected via his wife to St Thomas’ school. He frequently visited the school to teach and carry out duties, rather than the local parish priest from a church less than 300 yards away who might have been a wiser choice if available.  

Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham
The more I learn about this story, the more I think I understand the background to some of the passions aroused. I have been introduced to the world of the  which appears to play a significant role in the affairs of the Roman Catholic Church in and around Sevenoaks, an area with a significant proportion of Anglicans who have converted to Catholicism. Whilst none of this appears relevant to the Special Absence of Mrs Aquilina, the headteacher from St Thomas Catholic Primary School (below), it explains some of the passions that have been aroused by it - now a record 12,000 reads in two weeks.  As a result, I have attempted a document looking at some of the Ordinariate issues in more detail here. Relevant comments have been transferred to that page. I do not anticipate that everyone will agree with my analysis.
 
Footnote
It is my opinion that those critical of the leadership of St Thomas' Catholic Primary and Westerham & Biggin Hill parish (although I have not published most of the latter submissions as being irrelevant to education matters) have been generally responsible and restrained. On the other hand, several supporters have been vicious in their condemnation of those with whom they disagree, in a couple of cases naming their victims and describing their sins in some detail, whilst professing to be Christian. I understand they are forming a 'rearguard action group'  planning to “get people to write to those in authority to complain about the treatment of the Aquilinas' - presumably by the Archbishop and the KCSP. My advice is to establish the facts and understand the requirements of safeguarding first. 
 
One final random thought. Dr Clare Copeland is Chair of Governors at St Thomas. She presumably knows the relevant rules, as she is married to the Safeguarding Lead at Westerham Parish. 

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 05 August 2020 10:32

82 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 03 August 2020 18:43 posted by Emma OSullivan

    I have an almost 3 year old and have been looking at St. Thomas' as a possible school for her. When I googled the school looking for information this site came up.
    As I have no inside information on the school or this matter, to prospective parents it is all quite confusing and worrying. The petition states that the head teacher was asked by a parent to look after their child. I assume this was during lockdown given the furore, and making more assumptions here, to ask a head teacher to look after your child you must be pretty desperate as it's not standard is it. Given that I'm sure we've all read domestic abuse went up during lockdown perhaps this person had no where else to turn. I do know that Catholic priests do receive people at their door begging for help, and i assume as a wife of a priest the headteacher experiences this as well. As Catholics, of course they cannot say no?
    I hope the full nature of the breach will be made public so future parents can make a decision based on fact. If the head teacher did simply help out a parent in need I would have no qualms in sending my daughter to the school and in fact I would admire her for doing so. The child may have been at risk if she had not helped. If the matter is more serious parents must be made aware of it.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 28 July 2020 23:43 posted by No Newsflash

    Peter, I thought you said you would be closing the comments section unless there was new news. From what I can see, there isn’t any. Why are you posting more of this repetitive and completely pointless commentary? In my opinion it seems that instead of a news blog, it’s becoming a platform to allow a few vexatious people to continue their attempt to ruin the reputation of the school regardless of actual facts.
    Happy for you not to post this comment provided the ones posted after are not just opinions. PETER: The two I have let through are (1) informing parents of an alternative school with vacancies (2) asking the critical question of who will be responsible for safeguarding in September. These are both new points and I can see nothing there that is vexatious or in danger of ruining the reputation of the school. Yes, I have capped several that fall into your category. This article has now had 17,000 visitors, off the nromal scale for my articles which are designed for specific audiences. I am trying honestly to manage this comment section as logically and as fairly as possible.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 28 July 2020 20:37 posted by Never mind all the speculation - watch what happens on September 1st

    Proof of the pudding of course will be on September 1st or shortly after as to whether the Headteacher is relieved of her ‘Designated Safeguarding Lead’ status, which she has held at the school throughout her time apart from when on the recent special leave.

    Clearly if that all-important role is given to someone else then we get a definitive confirmation that there is an issue with her credentials in the safeguarding sphere as a result of what has happened.

    Watch this space!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 28 July 2020 08:14 posted by Admissions News

    I am told by a fellow parent that Amherst Junior School - excellent reputation and a school to which St Thomas parents have removed their children in very recent years has spaces available in year 3 from this September.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 28 July 2020 06:29 posted by Peter Read1

    Message From Peter: Once again I am closing this comment section down until and unless there is more news. There are some interesting points of view but they are becoming repetitive.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 28 July 2020 00:32 posted by A parent, just call me Montgomery.

    Sorry, but I don’t see anywhere any “supporters” of Mrs Aquilina thinking there has ever been a “serious breech” of safeguarding rules. In fact, quite the opposite. Most parents I know, are aware of the incident that occurred, which was actually quite factually stated in that petition that went around. No children have ever been left in any vulnerable position, in fact quite the opposite. If anything, it’s made me think more highly of Mrs A, a typical act of helping someone out as a Christian. Something that can be lost on people caught up with protocol and no common sense!

    I haven’t been at the school for long but Ive never had any cause for complaint. I think the staff are great, the children are happy and nearly all the parents are absolutely lovely, and I think Mrs A is a good head. But I am aware of one or two parents, who have been trying to create a bad reputation for a while now, I’m sorry but for what seem like personal vendettas. Look, at the end of the day, a process has taken place, and as that ‘ Jonathan Stephen’ said in an earlier post which I thought was quite fair and well put - “ trust that the mechanisms now in place will ensure a just and fair outcome”. Well there you go, I too am glad that process kicked in, now we can be assured that KCSP certainly act on any whisper of a safeguarding problem, even when it seems to not be one at all.

  • Comment Link Monday, 27 July 2020 20:04 posted by Logica

    I’d agree with Exasperated of Sevenoaks analysis about choice facing parents but directly relevant to that choice is knowing whether or not Mrs Aqualisa as head was guilty of a serious failure to look after kids.

    Since all seem to be in agreement, including as another comment pointed out - her supporters - that there was a very serious breach then we have to assume that an ugly compromise has been reached that means she has kept her job in spite of not looking after kids properly.

    No good hoping for the best! When your kids are at school you don’t have a clue what is going on behind the gate and if the top person can’t look after kids you either have to be worried or deluded.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 26 July 2020 12:13 posted by Local

    Perhaps “Mike Powis: chair of the trust board” who commented previously on this blog and is responsible for this outcome, can provide a proper explanation of his organisation’s decision to reinstate, given what is well known about what the head has done. It certainly seems a strange decision to turn a blind eye to something so serious. PETER: Mike Powis who was quoted - he didn't comment hiself

  • Comment Link Sunday, 26 July 2020 09:22 posted by Utterly aghast not of Sevenoaks

    This outcome is a tragic failure on the part of KCSP to ensure the safety of children. They have shown that even a senior leader in their organisation can get away having grossly disregarded safeguarding law and put vulnerable children at risk. Of course parents will probably never be told formally exactly how the HT has kept her job but it is clear that children’s safety has been disregarded as part of some kind of compromise between the HT and the KCSP.

    Both parties to this are a disgrace. Parents should be thinking hard about the right thing for their children, and quickly.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 26 July 2020 09:17 posted by Exasperated of Sevenoaks

    I am sure that news of Mrs Aquilina’s reinstatement will be welcomed by many parents - and not just those that signed the petition. Due process has been completed and I am sure that any decision will have been taken in the light of the evidence presented and with proper regard for the relevant safeguarding rules.
    It is time for everyone to move on. I feel some sympathy for parents who may have been hoping for a different outcome. They must now make a choice: accept the decision; or vote with their feet. I recognise that such a choice, whilst difficult, must primarily be driven by what they feel is best for their children. Meanwhile the rest of us need to pray that the wounds opened up by this affair both at the school and in the wider Catholic community are soon healed.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 25 July 2020 11:07 posted by Parent

    I have received a letter from KCSP about the reinstatement of the Head at St Thomas’.

    Having seen this type of situation in the corporate world, what is likely to have happened is that the employee’s union has got involved, made some kind of counter-accusation(s) and as a result the severity of the outcome is greatly reduced even though the employee admits the accusation put to them. In other words a compromise is reached so that neither side “loses out”.

    The problem is when you translate this across to the education sector, you are dealing with the most serious of all matters, ie the safeguarding of children. And in all the legal wrangling that important fact gets forgotten. So the party that “loses out” is the children, and especially those most in need.

    There will I am sure have been a number of outcomes but the only one of material interest to parents is that the Head is to be reinstated on 1st September as if nothing had happened. And serious things HAVE happened, as widely acknowledged and accepted including by supporters of the Head on this blog and elsewhere.

    Two parties in the education sector - KCSP and a trade union - will have set aside their most basic responsibility - to protect the interests and safeguarding of children, in order to try to protect KCSP’s reputation and that of their member; in doing so of course they have done the opposite and totally devalued themselves in the process.

    Peter - do you happen to have access to data on vacancies in alternative primary schools in the Sevenoaks area across the various year groups? I need to take stock but will be considering alternative options given this news. PETER - See my article on allocations here - https://www.kentadvice.co.uk/peters-blog/news-a-comments/item/1283-kent-primary-schools-oversubscription-vacancies-2020.html?start=3#Sevenoaks. This being Sevenoaks, there is likely to be easing as some families withdraw their children and head to private schools.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 25 July 2020 11:00 posted by Peter Read

    From Peter: Mrs Aquina has been reinstated as headteacher from September. There is no indication of whether there was a disciplinary case or if so what the outcome was. For further details see link in article above. Please note, I have deleted several unpleasant (two vicious) proposed comments and some from false email addresses relating to this.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 25 July 2020 09:14 posted by Joining the school in September

    I am a prospective new parent at the school from next term and was forwarded yesterday evening a copy of the letter from KCSP confirming that Mrs Aquilina is returning to school from 1st September.

    All (including the supporters in comments on this blog) seem to be in agreement that there has been a significant safeguarding breach by the person in highest authority within the school.

    When I applied for and accepted a place at the school for my child I knew none of this. I was then massively concerned when it became known that there was an issue with the record of the Head re safeguarding, but the action taken by the KCSP in temporarily removing her gave me some comfort.

    If the Head has accepted a serious charge about safeguarding we deserve to know this surely; the fact that KCSP have on the face of it turned a blind eye and allowed her to carry on in spite of the (very widely accepted and understood) wilful failure to adhere to safeguarding rules is of course a different matter.

    I want to know exactly what has happened and the basis for the Head being allowed back in charge so I can make an informed choice about my child’s school for September. Time is very short and a ‘meeting in early September’ per the letter is totally inadequate

  • Comment Link Friday, 24 July 2020 19:54 posted by Peter Read

    I am closing this comment section unless there are any really important contributions as I continue to receive evidence free allegations and attacks, and 'clever' comments, almost exclusively from one side of the argument. With friends like these ......

  • Comment Link Friday, 24 July 2020 12:19 posted by Local

    I’d agree that there’s not much more to say. What has been really sad though throughout this difficult episode has been the vitriolic ‘blaming of parents’ that has gone on via some of the postings from ‘supporters’ commenting on this blog, as well as elsewhere. It is sad and bizarre in equal measure, as if parents can in some way influence, or are responsible for, the behaviour and decisions of people at events at which they of course weren’t (presumably) present.

    I do hope, politely, this can come to an end as it really doesn’t make any sense at the end of the day and isn’t helpful either. It is certainly being propagated around Westerham parish still and would be good if that could stop also.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 23 July 2020 20:38 posted by Local but have travelled within UK extensively and with some international travel credentials

    I hope things work out for the best. We can all be spared too much more of this.. PETER: Welcome to a voice that brings international travel credentials to this very local issue. If you are suggesting there does not appear anything new to be said, I tend to agree.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 23 July 2020 12:00 posted by Puzzled of Sevenoaks (not Westerham)

    St Jude might be a more appropriate intercession than St Thomas Becket, one way or another. PETER: I make no comment on this one except to clarify that St Jude is the patron saint of lost causes.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 22 July 2020 23:18 posted by Realist of Sevenoaks

    Wash your mouth out Intrigued of Sevenoaks. That really would be scandalous. Surely not!!

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 22 July 2020 21:29 posted by Robert

    Each of the assertions in the petition, however well intentioned, have unfortunately been shown to be totally incorrect from what we’ve all seen. So every single one of the signatories to the petition have unwittingly signed up to a false prospectus.

    Not deliberate on the organisers’ part one assumes, just unfortunate and could have been avoided with a little more care, checking of facts and avoiding the mistake of bringing opinions and emotions into the petition statement.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 22 July 2020 18:06 posted by Intrigued of Sevenoaks

    In all my years of association with St Thomas's School and Parish, I have only heard the saint associated with both referred to as St Thomas of Canterbury. Unusually if not uniquely in the last two weeks, I have seen recourse for intercessory prayer addressed twice to St Thomas the Beckett. The first instance was at the end of the petition; the second instance was the sign off on the letter to parents from the governors! A strange coincidence! A cynic might put two and two together, but that might question the independence of the governors.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 22 July 2020 17:18 posted by Local

    Apologies - I wasn’t wanting to cause any upset to the organisers of the petition; I guess though a proportion of supporters living nowhere near the school and/or people who are supporting the petition with the caveat/qualification “if I had a child at the school....” is not helpful to the organisers’ cause. But that isn’t the fault of the organisers I fully accept, sorry.

    I do think however, politely, that some people will have taken the wording in the petition as being factually-based but, as has been demonstrated subsequently in this blog, isn’t really factually-based at all, just some (possibly on the surface attractive) notions that I can see many people might sign up to thinking there are factual.

    I hope I don’t get any abusive or short-tempered replies for pointing this out. I’m just trying to get a point across, not trying to annoy the organisers / friends and I hope this can be taken in that spirit.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 22 July 2020 16:15 posted by An actual local person who is a parent

    "and the problem with that is ?? If they are familiar with the details and nature of the petition, then they can sign it. Or is it a local petition for local people ??"

    You are right. There is no problem with that, and their signature is as irrelevant as anyone else who signed it.

    Your statement beggars the question where would they have gained their familiarity with the details and nature of the petition? From the petition itself which has proven to be a combination of half-truths and lies. I am ashamed that somebody attached to our school would attempt to manipulate other parents and people of goodwill over such a serious matter. The head and our community deserve better.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 22 July 2020 12:58 posted by ITSASMALLWORLD

    "Sunday, 19 July 2020 21:39 posted by Local
    One of the supporters per the petition is showing as being from Neath, South Wales...."

    and the problem with that is ?? If they are familiar with the details and nature of the petition, then they can sign it. Or is it a local petition for local people ??

  • Comment Link Sunday, 19 July 2020 21:39 posted by Local

    One of the supporters per the petition is showing as being from Neath, South Wales....

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 15 July 2020 16:15 posted by Trevor Ellis

    Who is TF who set up the 'petition'? (Thomas Friend?) Why are they afraid to identify themselves. Those concerned about events at St Thomas on this website have been generally courteous and thoughtful throughout. Those throwing brickbats and being offensive are supporters of the status quo. Come to that, why do only eight of the 258 signatories identify themselves, with most of these showing no evidence of knowledge of the school. 'Supporters of local Parish of Westerham';'If I had a child at the school'. PETER: Since this comment has appeared, several of the petition statements of support have been removed, presumably by the organisers to diminish this criticism.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 15 July 2020 14:55 posted by Pip

    One fact I CAN confirm is that amongst those who have been urging people to sign the petition (and of course who have also signed the petition themselves) are people who have no direct knowledge of the school - ie are neither present nor past parents, nor grandparents nor teachers nor have had any other connection with the school other than they are associates of the Head.

    So no actual knowledge of the school let alone objective knowledge of the case at hand.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 14 July 2020 16:56 posted by Julian N

    I think the length of the process is probably in the gift of both of the parties to it..PETER.If indeed there is a disciplinary process, then the timing of the set procedures are probably not in the gift of either party, to ensure each is treated fairly.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 14 July 2020 16:12 posted by Disappointed of Sevenoaks

    Oh dear, what on earth are we all doing here? Kent Independent Education Advice. I don’t see a lot of advice here, but an invitation to show, that we have different opinions on something we don’t know very much (or hardly anything) about. An opportunity to go to town. And do we go to town, on the head teacher, the RE teacher and on each other. Is this what this blog is about, to watch a lot of people get upset with each other? To sling mud at each other? For what? Who can possibly be enjoying this? It’s not constructive and it’s not advice. No facts. Not one person has so far shared the wrong that was done to him or her and to his or her child. But we still agree. This has been going on for years, whatever it is, and it has to stop. Nevertheless, we keep sending our children to that school. The head teacher has done something not by the book, apparently not something really bad. Heaven help us all, and on top of that she has maybe acted against the lockdown regulations. Nobody has shown us, that safeguarding was not uppermost in the head teacher’s actions and not even Dominic Cummings was investigated for breaking the lockdown rules. We don’t actually know exactly what ‘the wrong’ is, that is supposed to have happened. We don’t know the facts, so we can’t really express an opinion. We can only speculate and insinuate. And for good measure we throw in the RE teacher too, although we are not exactly sure, why he is the RE teacher rather than somebody else. Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but we should be careful, who we trample over in the process. On top of that, I think, that in this country, we are innocent until proven guilty. But we criticize and accuse on this website people, who are not in a position to defend themselves. Bravo, well done or shame on us? PETER: Oh dear indeed. I appreciate you have done your research before another set of accusations; but I am surprised you are so dismissive of the thousand other pages on this site., most of which are packed with information and advice. You will know therefore that this is just one of those pages, the article again predominantly full of information. I could tackle all your points, but I will stick to two, on the grounds that many others have already been answered if you take the trouble to read them. (1) Where do we all accuse? (2) As far as I can see the critics of the situation that led up to this have been courteous and restrained, without mud slinging. Please let me know where they have not been or where mud has been slung. I think I have been very patient with the lengthy tirades against them, presumably written hoping to stop any further comment through wearing down the opposition. To clarify yet again, if indeed there is a disciplinary process in progress, I consider it inappropriate to disclose the allged events. You choose to post one version as fact. I am well aware of some of the allegations made and have no intention of allowing them here. If you will excuse me I will go off and deal with information and advice for real families, where most of my time is spent.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 14 July 2020 12:10 posted by Exasperated of Sevenoaks

    PETER:You are indeed fortunate to have evidence. In this whole saga of rumours, half truths and insinuations, evidence seems to be the one thing in short supply. The reason why it is perfectly possible to draw wrong conclusions is because so many are concerned with what has happened but in terms of facts are reduced to guesswork. Rather than letting this nightmare drag on, those responsible should get their fingers out and get this thing over and done with. You suggested six months is not unknown in such cases. It might not be unknown but that does not make it right. It is important not to allow the process to become the punishment, but right now that is certainly happening and I at least have evidence, for that.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 14 July 2020 09:00 posted by Exasperated of Sevenoaks

    James’ and Leon’s comments are intriguing. They almost appear to be acknowledging that elements of the petition are based on fact but quite understandably cannot say as much on a public website. PETER: Funny how people can read different meanings into a comment. Your great leap to assuming they have held back on acknowledging the validity of the petition claims because this site is public is bizarre. I deduced quite the reverse, and certainly my analysis disputes the claim, with considerable evidence, in contradiction of false assertions in the petition

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 14 July 2020 00:45 posted by James

    Thanks Peter. Interesting petition I thought. Wonder where some of the assertions came from. They seem quite ‘close to home’. It’s almost as if the poster had some special knowledge from people close to the defence. Jimmy.

  • Comment Link Monday, 13 July 2020 22:23 posted by Leon

    Peter. Still a tricky situation of course down at Sevenoaks but some of the opinions expressed in the original petition wording (which are clearly opinions of course but people have signed up to as if they are fact rather than opinions) are interesting to say the least. One does wonder where those have come from originally, but one wouldn’t wish to speculate.

  • Comment Link Monday, 13 July 2020 19:37 posted by Yet another Concerned Parent

    Your excellent analysis of the Petition should cause those considering signing it second thoughts. Unfortunately, if it has been signed without reflection, there is no way to retract a name. It is clear that formal proceedings are still taking place within the law, but not concluded as the petition falsely claims. We must all wait patiently for this to work through.

  • Comment Link Monday, 13 July 2020 14:50 posted by Exasperated of Sevenoaks

    You may be interested to hear that there is now a petition here https://www.change.org/p/kent-catholic-schools-partnership-the-archdiocese-of-southwark-keep-our-headteacher-at-st-thomas-s-and-prevent-a-kcsp-merger-with-other-schools
    It is not for me to comment further though it does suggest that Mrs Aquilina’s reinstatement would be seen by many as a positive step. PETER: See addition to main article above.

  • Comment Link Monday, 13 July 2020 13:58 posted by Local

    https://www.change.org/p/kent-catholic-schools-partnership-the-archdiocese-of-southwark-keep-our-headteacher-at-st-thomas-s-and-prevent-a-kcsp-merger-with-other-schools PETER: See addition to main article above.

  • Comment Link Friday, 03 July 2020 16:13 posted by Sevenoaks Parent

    I’m a parent living in Sevenoaks, and I have to say that some of you seem to have forgotten how hard the teachers at St Thomas’ work, and how dedicated they have been during the pandemic. Throughout lockdown, they put themselves at risk to look after the children of keyworkers, including medics on COVID wards. The staff built an entire online learning site with 48 hours’ notice, and ran a digital school for months, preparing lessons and marking homework for the kids. This is far more than any of the other local primary schools have achieved. Stop trolling about issues you know nothing about. You’re undermining a brilliant school staffed by hard-working teachers, who have only ever had the best interests of your children at heart. PETER: I am totally happy to echo your appreciation of the teaching staff at St Thomas'. I am sure you are right, but I have not seen a negative word in a single comment about the teachers who have the additional burden of coping with the controversial absence of the headteacher.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 01 July 2020 20:02 posted by Richard P

    Well done, Peter. You won't have pleased everyone, but your coverage of the Ordinariate appears a fair assessment of the issues. Sit back and wait for the brickbats!

  • Comment Link Thursday, 25 June 2020 19:37 posted by happy parent

    The negative comments on this website are a joke! We all know that St Thomas's School, the head teacher, Fr Ivan and the staff have done a wonderful job. The school is amazing and is a totally safe and caring environment for children to flourish. If some of the fantastic private schools in the area were free, I would still send my children to St Thomas's!
    We all know there are a handful of parents (most of which are leaving in a month or so -thank goodness) who have been plotting and trying to undermine Mrs A for several years. They are wrapped up in anger and unforgiveness from not getting their own way! They are having a field day on this site with their fake names and concerned rubbish...
    For anyone considering sending a child to the school I would thoroughly recommend it. I do not know all the facts of the investigation; however from what I have experienced of Mrs Aquilina I'm sure it was a minor technical breach for a "greater good".
    The Facts I do know:
    1) Mrs Aquilina has shown nothing but care, and amazing commitment to the school, children, staff and community. She is always accessible if there is an issue. She always goes above and beyond what is required in caring for her children and trying to improve the school. (I'm sure this is where she may have stumbled)
    2) She has found funding and dramatically improved the school facilities, including increasing the floor space, play areas and security.
    3) The RE lessons are incredible. Current parents ask your children! Father Ivan has a real gift! He is a real asset to the school. (After advertising for months and getting nowhere he kindly offered a day of his week to teach the children)
    4) Academically the school is one of strongest in Kent. And this is not the main focus of the school, and every class has many children with unique talents and different learning challenges. All are supported with care and love.
    5) The school Moto is "Learning in the light of Christ" If you would like your child to grow with a strong sense of care, and love for one another then I would highly recommend it.
    6) We have just had a letter from the governors and as far as I can see, there is only 1 parishioner from westerham out of the 7 posts. And at a push this one is the only one you could classify as a friend.
    7) The ‘Ivan Aquilina trophy’. There are many cups and awards handed out at the end of year 6 for various sports, talents etc...some sponsored by current and former parents. It is a catholic school so a faith based award is a great idea!
    8) There is no safeguarding/leadership issue! Any ofstead report was obviously hijacked by the handful of the "concerned" parents and their friends.

    If Mrs Aquilina is not re-instated I and my children will be very upset. She has done nothing more than sacrifice her life for the good of others. She has so much energy to do good it’s incredible, a real asset of the school and community. She has really moved the school forward, and each year is getting better. It would be a huge loss if she were to leave.
    I have no doubt that this post will be shot down by a tirade of posts from "concerned parents" and people with forenames which strangely don't consist of anyone I know at the school or local area. I would ask them to stop this and focus on the Lords commandment "love one another as I have loved you"
    Any genuine concerned parents- Ask your children!......or ask the staff

  • Comment Link Thursday, 25 June 2020 15:59 posted by Harriett

    Just read a letter from the governing body at the school. No hint of remorse or culpability for being asleep at the wheel over the past weeks, months and years, just a self-congratulatory statement that “our school is in excellent hands”.

    As others have said, the existing teaching and staff team is a good one and Mr Wright seems to have hit the ground running.

    But the governors really do need to be looking at their role in steering the school to the position we’ve reached rather than sending out vacuous letters like the one just received.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 25 June 2020 12:00 posted by Parent at St Thomas

    Given that Mrs Aquilina and Fr Ivan are both on leave , albeit until the end of term, whatever your experiences at school this is a very very serious time for our school community under the headteacher and safeguarding lead with enough training and in a unique trusted responsibility to know better.

    I have witnessed serious events over the last 5 years , where parents have been left bereft, following concerns for their children's safety at school. Fact. I have witnessed parents , trying to keep composure at the school gate when looking for answers , when they are at their wits end with worry.Fact. Sometimes following numerous escalated events. I have seen families leave our school .Great families, loving families, like every one of you. Our community becoming more and more fractured.

    Safeguarding, is not just to protect our children from who may come into the school , it is from those within its own gates. It is to give us peace , when we drop them off that when we pick them up, they come back the same way .

    Lives have been sadly affected as protocols have not been followed and from my own experience , doors have been closed when I have tried to escalate to governors and the parish. I hope now is a tide of change and restoration for our school when we can build back transparency, trust and community to educate and protect our children. This is NOT about ruining reputations, No. This is about looking after and saving our children and instilling a faith in our children we hope they can continue and really believe in long after they leave school. As well as strengthening our own.

    As a parent who has been in the school a long time I am grateful for this platform for all of us to speak in this way without fear if retribution. Emotions are high as opinions differ. Nothing is more important than our children. Plenty of us have been worried and raised concerns and had them unanswered in the past. For others , this is all new and its alarming as it's not what you have experienced. But you cannot change what has been done to others and what they and their families have been through. For now let's support each other the school , the staff and our families. We all need to come together ( virus pending ) and build our St Thomas' Community.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 25 June 2020 11:57 posted by Religious person

    Hi - I’d probably rank the resurrection, the sacraments and the magisterium of the Church higher up in the list than Fr Aquilina’s school visits in terms of “the biggest gift we could have as Catholics” but I accept that this may be subject to debate in some quarters.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 25 June 2020 10:29 posted by Connor

    I have to say (in a similar vein to previous comments) that clearly there are some people who have had very positive experience with the school, and others who haven’t.

    The existence of people with positive experiences of the school does not nullify or negate the memories of those who have had to go through more difficult times than them. The challenges are certainly not related to the provider of school lunches (!) and they are serious and multi-faceted. It’s not really fair to characterise those who have had challenging times as being ‘un-Catholic’. It is a good thing to support friends in time of need though and do please carry on doing that but not by disparaging others people who are simply setting out their experiences of the school.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 24 June 2020 23:09 posted by Sebastian

    Those of us amongst the parents, teachers and governors under the previous headship prior to 2015 and prior to KCSP recall a much less political time at St Thomas’s when the focus was much more on the school and its pupils and much less on the politics of structures and much less on the headteacher who at that time was a wonderfully effective and understated head.

    I hope we can return to something like those days soon.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 24 June 2020 21:56 posted by H Hamster (real name withheld)

    It’s great to have the real story from people who’ve not really had a voice previously. There’s been an awful lot of concern about the previous head and of course people tend to think they are alone in their thoughts that things aren’t quite right until others come to the fore.

    I really hope things stabilise under the new temporary leadership and of course we have some great teachers and staff who I am sure with the continued support of parents will continue to do great things for the school. Let’s work together to make that happen now that we have a fresh start.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 24 June 2020 21:51 posted by Paola

    I’m writing this as a parent of St. Thomas’ and as a parishioner of Westerham. Reading the post and the comments here I could see that some come from non religious people and I understand and respect the views, what really makes sad is reading comments made by people who said are catholics, helping to discredit our church, our school and our beliefs.

    Regarding Mrs. Aquilina, she is the most caring and loving headteacher I have known -- and I have had plenty of experience bringing up our four children and making two international moves. I feel the criticism of her is unfair, and much of it is based on two decisions that were made by the KCSP and not by her. (one results from an incident a couple of years ago when the school lunch provider was changed and the other, over the 11-plus, wasn't her decision.) She was trapped between the bureaucracy and the parents and as a result people didn’t give the school good comments during the Ofsted Parent view survey.

    Having Father Ivan go to St Thomas' and teach our children RE has been the biggest gift we could have as Catholics. Now our kids beg us to take them to church and many families have moved to Westerham church for that reason, because the children ask to go to Father Ivan's church. I can't believe how anyone could see something bad about this. All he is doing is keeping our faith alive and securing the future of our church, bringing our children closer to God in a way they understand and like.

    So far as I know Mrs Aquilina always tried to help the families at school and if I as a mother can't ask the headteacher for help, who can I ask for help? I'm in this country alone without family, my husband is in London working until late and traveling abroad a lot, so if I have physical or mental problems and I couldn’t take care of my children I would ask Mrs Aquilina for help and know she would help me.

    People who help at church or at school are volunteers, no one has appointed them, they don't receive any salary or benefit, Many of them come from Westerham parish and it isn't because they are personal friends, it’s because that is the way we do things at our parish, we help each other.

    I'm really in shock. As Catholics we shouldn't be behaving this way, talking badly about a priest and a headteacher after all they have done is to serve our school and parish. People should really feel ashamed of what they have written. I've been a parishioner for two years now and since arriving, Father Ivan has made my family feel that we are an important part of the parish, that we are all a family (not personal friends as some people are saying in this chat). And that’s not just me who’s saying that, my 12-year-old son has used the same words. PETER: To clarify, Paola has not said Mrs Aquilina took care of her children or any others. She said “She would” help me.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 24 June 2020 19:54 posted by Jennie P

    Thank you for moving all the St Thomas comments on to one page. It really makes an impact, underlining the negative opinions picked up in last year's Parent View

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 23:36 posted by Concerned parent again

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 19th JUNE ON KCSP ARTICLE
    Hi previous poster - does your character reference take account of the facts surrounding the investigation - ie do you have specific detailed knowledge. Of course you and many parents and children will have had a happy time but that is hardly the point. It’s the incident that goes WRONG that counts in safeguarding matters, not the account of the many who (thankfully) have had a happy and contented time. It’s the one lost sheep not the rest of the flock when it comes to safeguarding....

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 23:30 posted by Angus

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 21st JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    I remember we were urged by the school at the time on many occasions to complete the ofsted parent questionnaire. I assumed at the time it was in case they got an inspection or something and they could then demonstrate that they had consulted parents.

    Peter - thanks for sharing the data from the questionnaire. In your experience would that sort of outcome not normally have given rise to an inspection of some sort from ofsted? Would the new issue with the head being suspended for safeguarding reasons also make an inspection more likely?

    We never as parents got the results from the Head or from the Governors but given those results I can sort of see why they hid them! I had a quick look at some comparable schools and as you say there is nothing like as bad as this - even the worst has a ‘recommend’ ratio of about 90%?!

    Gus

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 23:29 posted by Peregrine

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 21st JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    If anyone had looked at the shocking scores on the ofsted parent view survey thing a year or maybe more ago they'd have seen all this coming I think they were really bad scores compared with all other parent views surveys of schools around Sevenoaks but nobody did anything about anything they never do so here we are in this sorry mess. I hope things work out. PETER: for the 2018/19 Ofsted Parent View for St Thomas' , more than half of the 42 respondents felt the school was not well led or managed and that it did not respond well to parental concerns. Just 22 out of the 42 would recommend it to other parents. Compared to other schools I have looked at this level of discontent is quite shocking and should have sent out an urgent warning signal. In previous years there have been almost no responses.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 22:58 posted by Concerned parent #7

    I vividly recall one of the more bizarre episodes at the school a couple of years ago in which parents were complaining because Fr Aquilina had told a class of primary school kids that Father Christmas didn’t exist, thereby shattering the dreams of at least some of the then year 5 class.

    At around the same time, there was a controversy in which he (Fr Aquilina that is, not Father Christmas) was giving out little ‘rewards’ such as rosaries to some kids in the class but not others. I think this was reported to his wife the head but not sure the message was passed on.

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated.
Basic HTML code is allowed.