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Tuesday, 01 September 2020 19:59

Further Trauma at St Thomas' Catholic Primary School

Update 16th November: Article Re Mrs Aquina's dismissal. 

The Chair of the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership wrote to parents of St Thomas Catholic Primary School on 17th June to inform them that the headteacher, Mrs Aquilina, was being given ‘special leave until the end of the academic year’. This followed a safeguarding incident which created considerable concern and debate, the absence being widely and reasonably assumed to be a formal suspension from her responsibilities because of the safeguarding issue.

On July 25th, at the end of the summer term, he wrote again ‘We have now reached the end of the academic year and can confirm that Mrs Aquilina will be returning to her role of Headteacher at St Thomas’ Primary on 1 September 2020…. A meeting with parents and carers of St Thomas’ will be held at the start of the new academic year’

Yesterday, 1st September, Mr Powis, the Chair of KCSP, wrote again to parents, to inform them that Mrs Aquilina will now be ‘on special leave for the foreseeable future’. The letter unsurprisingly contains no further explanation of the change of direction and no mention of the meeting for parents promised in the previous letter. This may be because of legal issues. 

Although I don’t fully understand the reasons, my previous item about St Thomas’ is by some way the most read on this website over a short period that I can recall, with 19,850 hits in just ten weeks. It has also attracted an unprecedented number and length of comments at 85, many expressing robust opinions, and including three on my supplementary page about the Catholic Ordinariate. Indeed I have for the first time had to veto several of these comments because of the strong nature of allegations contained in them, surprising in a Christian context. It is clear that Mrs Aquilina and her husband, Father Aquilina the vicar of Westerham and Biggin Hill also on leave of absence from his post, attract strong views both for and against, which cannot itself be healthy for the school, or indeed his parish.

Although St Thomas’ is an academy in the KCSP, if the matter is a safeguarding one then ultimate responsibility lies with Kent County Council, although they are not mentioned in any of the correspondence.

I believe my previous article contains the key factors in this sad story, except that it has now been suggested a fresh matter has come to light which has led to the reversal of the previous decision to reinstate.

On 28th September, KCSP wrote to parents to inform them there is no further news and Mrs Aquilina continues to be on 'Special Leave'. The Trust will write again before the start of next Term, 1st November. Whatever is going on appears very heavy!

Kent Catholic Schools Partnership
The issues at St Thomas' first came to my attention after I wrote an item at the beginning of June, about the KCSP which has had its own troubles, culminating in the controversial CEO, Mr Clive Webster, himself becoming 'unexpectedly away for his duties at present'. Nothing further has been heard about this matter since then, with letters coming out being co-signed by Mike Powis, Chair of the Partnership, and Mark Harris, Director of Finance and HR, who appears to be the Acting CEO. Unsurprisingly, the Partnership website, although featuring a 'Warm Welcome' video and message from Mr Webster makes no further reference to him or the situation. 
Dr Simon Hughes, Appointment as a Governor
 The Acting Headteacher of St Thomas has sent a letter home to parents today, 9th September, including the following.
School Governors, KCSP and Dr Simon Hughes, who is Director of Education & Schools Commissioner for the Diocese of Southwark, met on Friday evening. Dr Hughes will be joining our governing body with immediate effect to help support the school during the current period. KCSP will update parents by 2nd October regarding St Thomas. Irrespective of the update on 2nd October I have delayed taking up my new position in order to provide some continuity in the meantime. I will continue to lead the school until half-term in October.
 Dr Hughes has overall responsibility for 169 Catholic schools in the Diocese, including over 30 secondary schools, so the decision to parachute him into the small primary school of St Thomas is quite remarkable and indicative of the scale of problems at the school, or perhaps with the governing body. Acting headteacher Mr Chris Wright, who is also Executive Head of several schools in East Kent, seems to have done a good job at St Thomas but appears now to be moving on to a new role elsewhere. Meanwhile, there is nothing to indicate that the day to day operation of the school is anything but good and proper.
 Updated Petition by Parents
Back in June, some parents at St Thomas set up a petition asking for the headteacher, Claudia Aquilina,  to be returned to her position. I looked in some detail at the petition in a previous article here.  After parents were informed she was to be allowed back on the first day of this term in September, this decision was rescinded and she is still absent, presumably suspended for a second occasion. There are reports that this is because of a second incident although no details have become public. 
The petition has now been updated on 22nd September in a very emotive way, making some wild claims. It alleges that 'parents and carers have once again being let down by KCSP's distrustful decision on 1st September 2020 to place Mrs Aquilina on 'special leave' again. This is an irresponsible and injudicious decision which demonstrates (sic) the incompetent leadership at the top of KCSP'. Some parents and carers may feel this, we do not know how many, as such petitions get circulated widely on the internet and it just needs one click and no knowledge of the situation to sign. Currently, there are just 291 signatories.  
I believe it is unwise and inflammatory to use terms such as distrustful, irresponsible and injudicious incompetence without evidence and then ask parents to sign without the large majority knowing any of the facts. To claim 'Rumours that KCSP and the Archdiocese clearly do not care for these Catholic families and the wishes of these supporters who want their Headteacher back', is just stupid. Both organisations are clearly in a very difficult situation, for such events are thankfully extremely rare (I have never come across anything like this before) and clearly require delicate and confidential handling to avoid possible legal consequences. 


Last modified on Thursday, 14 October 2021 17:24

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