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Wednesday, 17 June 2020 23:45

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

Update 1st July: The moreI 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 Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham 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 10,000 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.

Nine days ago (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 14,000 visitors in less than a fortnight, 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.

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.

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. 
 
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.  

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 Saturday, 04 July 2020 11:45

47 comments

  • 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.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 19:39 posted by Dolores

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 21st JUNE ON KCSP ARTICLE
    There have been all sorts of issues with the leadership at the school over the last five years - ranging from the trivial to the bizarre to the frankly unfathomable. Hopefully things will become a little more straightforward as we move forwards. There have been serious issues that have frankly just not been dealt with by the school or by KCSP. The legacy of that failure to act lives on. I just don’t think there’s been the will to sort things in the past. Thankfully that seems to have changed with the recent news. A lack of transparency and a failure to tackle issues properly have been the real issue. Personally I’ve felt sorry at times for the class teachers and other staff who have been excellent. Not a character assessment of any sort, just a statement of my experience.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 19:37 posted by Alan

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 19th JUNE ON KCSP ARTICLE
    I’ve seen the FB posting which reflects on people’s motives and attitudes: “unreasonable, illogical and self-centred” - presumably a reference to those who insist on upholding the principles of safeguarding and child protection. “If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you”. Yep they sure will. I think that’s the allegation as I understand it. Al

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 19:36 posted by Nigel

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 19th JUNE ON KCSP ARTICLE
    Really balanced comment from Stephen Jonathans which really captures it all. The only think I would add is that breaches of safeguarding rules ALWAYS put the safety of children at real risk; the rules can never be set aside or disregarded. There are no exceptions. Intention is irrelevant in that regard. Safeguarding rules have to be followed. Nige

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 19:35 posted by Jonathan Stephens

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 19th JUNE ON KCSP ARTICLE
    I am a parent with two children at St Thomas's in Sevenoaks. Like all schools I suspect, it has its ups and downs. By its very nature, it will be a flawed institution because like all institutions it run by imperfect people. As parents, one of the most challenging decisions is giving others the responsibility to care for our children. The foundation of that choice is trust. I have entrusted my children into the care of the school, and all its staff; support staff, cooks, cleaners, TA's, teachers, senior management team and the head. I have done this knowing that there are standard local and national safeguarding measures in place for the protection of my children and their proxy carers. These measures have come about because of tragic and heartbreaking cases of abuse and maltreatment in the past. No one, in a place of authority or responsibility, whether they be a doctor, a police officer, priest or teacher, has a right to ignore safeguarding measures. No matter the purity of intention, they are duty-bound to uphold safeguarding rules, not just for those in their care, but themselves. I don't know the ins and outs of this case. However, I am glad to see the safeguarding system within the Diocese and Education authority kick into action for the safety of our children. I trust that the mechanisms now in place will ensure a just and fair outcome for the people involved and will begin to rebuild the compact of trust between myself and those who care for my children

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 19:20 posted by Peter

    FROM PETER: Please note I have removed a number of comments from this section as they are from fake email addresses, refer to these messages, are repetitive or irrelevant or the poster has had second thoughts. I am pleased that very few have been personal, but I have removed several references. Please feel free to keep commenting if you have something relevant to contribute that avoids these traps.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 19:19 posted by Nathan

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 19th JUNE ON KCSP ARTICLE
    Parent at st Thomas: which bit do you consider to be BS/lies exactly? Or are you suggesting this has all been a ‘big mistake’, including the evidence that was doing the rounds last month?

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 19:15 posted by Parent at St Thomas

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 19th JUNE ON KCSP ARTICLE
    Unbelievable amount of BS gossip here. Having been a parent for over 10 years at St Thomas, I am saddened to admit I’ve come across a lot of rather nasty gossips there, who relish at digging the knife in. Anyone who actually knows the HT and her husband, know they are decent, caring and above all holy people, who are also parents themselves. I feel I have to speak out in response to the disgusting low level implications from some of these comments. I hope those parents who have commented with such damning lies are ashamed of themselves. Disgusting. No doubt this “investigation” will reveal the truth and that I welcome. PETER: I Can't find any BS Gossip here. However, people are certainly asking questions and providing information. Perhaps you could help to point it out to me in a private email and I will remove it.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 19:14 posted by Peter

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 19th JUNE ON KCSP ARTICLE
    You are quite right Peter. When a tree is rotten, you need to address the trunk first, then the branches. Problems such as those at St Thomas' flourish because the Trust centre is blind to such matters.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:28 posted by Concerned parent again

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 18TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    What will happen to the iconic Fr Aquilina RE lessons / assemblies. We were always told his presence in the school had no connection with his wife being Head Teacher so I assume they will naturally continue as before....?

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:26 posted by Very concerned St Thomas’s parent

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 18TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    There have been systemic issues with the leadership at St Thomas’s for several years. I am relieved that people are finally investigating.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:24 posted by Alexander

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 17TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    Thank you Peter; First with the education news in Kent as usual. what would the county do without you.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:22 posted by Another Concerned Parent

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 17TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    Still nothing from the school, the governors, KCSP or anyone else about the situation at Sevenoaks. I dont think the Head was at school today though apparently. Whether that means anything or she was just spending some time at home with the hubby plotting next steps I dont know. I’d heard she has been moving kids around / taking school kids home overnight during the strict covid lockdown period. Dont really know if that is the whole issue but would be bad enough by itself of course

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:20 posted by Parent

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 17TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    I and fellow parents have been exchanging messages over the past couple of days reading all of this dreadful stuff about St Thomas’. I tried to call the school twice to find out what is going on but no answer. The fact that nobody from the school, KCSP or the governors have sought to clarify matters is telling in itself. There is a serious safeguarding matter involving the headteacher. We do not know the nature of it but there is a common version of events which is doing the rounds. The church and KCSP won’t act to deal with the matter because the headteachers husband is a priest, one of the church’s own. It is very likely he is influencing things behind the scenes by exerting influence to hush things up. Someone suggested below that he might also have been involved in the safeguarding incidents but that is not clear. If he has been involved, that is clearly even worse. The governors won’t act to deal with the matter because the chair of governors / her husband and the headteacher / her priest husband are personal friends. If all of the above is anywhere near true (and unfortunately I am confident that it is) then clearly we have a safeguarding issue at the very top of the school, and it seems no hope of getting it sorted out. This cannot be right?! Are there any education or legal experts who can suggest a way forward? PETER: You are quite right. At the very least KCSP is being negligent on this issue. Its Safeguarding Officer is Clive Webster who is not available, so who is responsible in the Trust?

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:17 posted by Eric

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 16TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    As an outsider I totally agree with Pete - if a Head doesn’t follow the safeguarding rules then what hope is there. And we can only assume that there is hesitation to act because the Head’s husband is a member of clergy. What a disgrace. The new revelation from Susan suggests that governance in both parish and school will be worse than non-existent, and points towards there being an issue at the parish (Westerham?) which is spilling over into the school. Does anyone have any knowledge of what’s going on in the parish there? This all just needs to be sorted out without any hesitation. Surely those in charge can see the dangers.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:16 posted by Peter

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 16TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    I am not from the school but if any head teacher is found to have broken safeguarding rules then that should be dealt with by immediate dismissal for gross negligence and misconduct as soon as the facts are proved or admitted. Who can we trust if we can’t trust a head teacher?

    The conflict of interest and loyalty with the husband being a priest must not be allowed to get in the way; I fear that those in the church and the MAT looking at this may well allow that to happen in order to smooth things over in some way but this really cannot happen.

    Rob it would be good to get a bit more detail on this if you have the detail.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:09 posted by Susan

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 16TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    Rob - do you have more detail on the big safeguarding issue? I have spoken to people but there are only sketchy details. Seems to be common consensus that the Head’s priest husband has been involved in the safeguard problem as well? Apparently the new chair of governors at school is a personal friend of the Aquilina’s from Westerham parish? Also - chair of governors husband is the safeguarding person at that parish! So they have friends in all the key positions in school and parish.....!?!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:07 posted by Lynda

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 15TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    Hey all - did anyone see that photo from St Thomas newsletter of all the kids watching the head’s husband saying mass while she was over at their church playing the organ in Westerham instead of being at school? The one where all the kids were sitting on top of each other during Covid lockdown..

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:06 posted by Rob

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 15TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    There is a serious safeguarding issue at the centre of the St Thomas school concerns, known to many parents. It has been reported to the KCSP I understand, but they have shown no concern. Is this because the HT's husband is a local Catholic Parish Priest? PETER: If this is the case, then it must be reported to Social Services to investigate without delay. Your suggestion that it is being hushed up because the HTs husband is a member of the clergy, if true is an indictment of the Trust. I am sure that Catholic parents are loyal to the church, but safety should trump this any time.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:05 posted by Ken

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 15TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    Mike I agree but actually a bigger reason the Church or KCSP won’t deal with this situation properly is that the headteacher’s husband is a member of the local Catholic clergy.....

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:04 posted by Mike

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 14TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    I have heard similar. The prob is that raising these issues is a real problem because things can be very unpleasant as governors are not prepared to help and I think they are afraid of the Head.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 17:02 posted by Concerned Parent

    ORIGINALLY POSTED 14TH JUNE ON KCSP SITE
    St Thomas’s in Sevenoaks. As a relatively new parent to the school I have heard rumours swirling about recent serious misdemeanours by the Head. Parents who have been associated with the school for longer talk about multiple failings of leadership, the Head appointing her own governors etc. The latest problem is on a safeguarding nature but I don’t have the detail. But yes it is worth exposing/investigating

  • Comment Link Monday, 22 June 2020 20:13 posted by Mark

    Have been following this thread with interest. If the Rev Vicar Aquilina was employed as a teacher in the school (teaching RE as it happens), who would be responsible for assessing the quality of his teaching and doing his performance review/appraisal. I would assume Mrs Aquilina but I guess that would be inappropriate and the local governors would have insisted on an alternative person to keep an eye on things.

  • Comment Link Monday, 22 June 2020 19:15 posted by Concerned parent #6

    Hello. As a matter of fact there have certainly been instances in the recent past of parents withdrawing children from St Thomas’ school for a variety of reasons, including safeguarding concerns.

  • Comment Link Monday, 22 June 2020 15:56 posted by Fiona

    I am a parent at St Thomas and a parishioner at Westerham parish where Canon Aquilina is the parish priest. I didn’t want to comment on here because I feel it is becoming a gossip site. However, some of the comments are insinuating things that simply isn’t the truth.

    I think it needs to be made clear that the current investigation as I understand it has nothing to do with abuse or harm to a child of any nature.

    In response to the insinuation that Mrs Aquilina has broken some kind of rule by allowing Canon Aquilina access to the school is nonsense. The school serves 3 parishes, Westerham being one of them. As parish priest he is welcome, alongside the other parish priests to our school. He has taught some of the older years RE and we have been very lucky to have him given his wealth of knowledge and experience as a teacher. He is a busy man but has helped out when he can. Both my children have always loved his lessons.

    Unfortunately there are a couple of ex parishioners who have been upset with the priest in recent years who are using the current investigation as an opportunity to create problems for him as revenge, which is very sad. There are also people who do not like that he is married, being he was an Anglican priest before converting.


    I’d also like to point out that comments by “concerned parents” implying there have been safeguarding issues for years at the school, are unsustainable and just personal opinions. I can only respond in question as to why they would continue to keep their child in a school where they felt that to be the case.

    I can also confirm, as someone involved in Westerham parish, that there have not been any safeguarding issues that I have ever been aware of. PETER: Thank you for this Fiona. However, I have to make clear that this is a website of some 1000 pages, of information, advice, news and comment just two of which are partially concerned with affairs at St Thomas' and touching on Westerham Catholic Parish. So hardly a gossip site. Nowhere on these is any suggestion of abuse or harm to children. Nowhere is it suggested that allowing Rev Aquilina access to the site of St Thomas is unlawful. Nowhere is there a suggestion that there have been safeguarding issues for years. I understand the reported reason for Mrs Aquilina's absence from school. In my opinion the authorities had no alternative and it was nothing to do with two disgruntled ex-parishioners. Nowhere is there any criticism of Father Aqilina's status as a married vicar. I am afraid you may not like the overwhelming tenor of comments and I have certainly seen nothing like this in my 15 years of running Kentadvice. However, overwhelmingly whilst they are critical they are expressing real concerns and making genuine points from a variety of school parents that have no obvious connection with the parish of Westerham. . I can see nothing that fits your allegation of gossip, but am happy to revisit it if you can point me in that direction. Perhaps you can also point out to me the false insinuations by email and I will happily remove them. PETER: Addition to the above. I have now had two precise offline responses from parents who have taken their children away from St Thomas, one for 'serious safeguarding reasons' , and others expressing similar concerns.

  • Comment Link Monday, 22 June 2020 00:21 posted by Jack

    Hi- we were told before on a posting on here by someone who seems to know about stuff that Father Ivan was the only RE teacher at school.

    Now he’s gone will there be a replacement. He must have been teaching all the classes RE.

    JK

  • Comment Link Monday, 22 June 2020 00:06 posted by John

    Hello Peter

    Really interesting stuff as ever.

    In a situation as at S Thomas where a Headteacher has her husband as a regular visitor in her own school, who would ultimately give permission for this to happen? And if there is a complaint - who would deal with that?

    Gather from your article that husband and wife have now both been suspended which is intriguing to say the least. Most unusual. But how on earth can they both have been appointed to the same school in the same area at the same time in the first place? And how can nobody have picked up on the obvious risks.

    Does anyone know exactly what Fr Aquilina’s role is/was in the school - is he an RE teacher or acting in some kind of supply teacher / TA capacity? Or midday supervisor?

    Cheers

    John. PETER We have not been told anyone has been suspended. Both are on different types of absence. It is not clear in what capacity Fr Aquilinas taught RE lessons in the school.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 21 June 2020 23:25 posted by Brian

    Hi
    Would the school leadership and governors have known about the really bad parents view stuff? It seems like they just kept it quiet even though parents were pestered by the head all the time to compete the survey. It was properly full on like “please complete the survey” loads of times and all that. If it was one of the worst survey results ever why did nobody follow up. Surely somebody on the governors saw it? Weird.Brian PETER: They should have known and to ignore it was negligent. The previous Chairman of Governors resigned about then. One can only speculate why? The current Chairman is heavily involved with Westerham Catholic church

  • Comment Link Sunday, 21 June 2020 22:34 posted by Dominic

    Thanks for the article. One thing worth adding is that the ‘outstanding’ OFSTED report was under the headteacher before Mrs Aquilina.

    I looked previously at the FB posting referred to in an earlier comment by someone and notice that the FB posting has now disappeared for some reason.

    I’m not an expert on these things at all but I guess all this must mean that the visits to the school by Fr Aquilina will have to come to an end (and so a new RE teacher will need to be found?); and also the engraved ‘Ivan Aquilina trophy’ - commissioned by her husband on behalf of the school - will need to be retired?

    Keep safe

    Dominic

  • Comment Link Saturday, 20 June 2020 19:17 posted by Devon

    All very interesting stuff and challenging times by the sounds of it.

    Do you have more about the issue you cited re involvement of the head’s husband in the affairs of the school?

    Devon

  • Comment Link Friday, 19 June 2020 12:26 posted by St T’s parent

    My child has also been at school for the duration of Mrs Aquilina’s headship. Sadly I have not had the same positive experience as others. The reasons for which are too numerous, complicated and not appropriate to go into here, suffice to say this current situation is the final straw. I know that I am not alone. I am pleased that others have had a positive experience but I and others directly impacted by certain events during Mrs Aquilina’s tenure have genuine cause for negativity and great sadness. This is not a comment on anyone’s character but just a statement of genuine feeling based on my own experience.

  • Comment Link Friday, 19 June 2020 11:41 posted by Marcus

    Its good to hear re your experience and that of your daughter. Not everyone has had that great experience and in my clear opinion those people are as entitled to comment about that experience as you are about yours.

  • Comment Link Friday, 19 June 2020 11:26 posted by Dominic Smith

    You are quite right Peter. When a tree is rotten, you need to address the trunk first, then the branches. Problems such as those at St Thomas' flourish because the Trust centre is blind to such matters.

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