Sudbury: Sacked school governors speak out

SACKED governors at a Catholic school in west Suffolk have launched a scathing attack on church authorities following a controversial decision to fire them.

St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Sudbury has been thrown into turmoil since headteacher Pauline Lawrence went absent on October 21 – as a result of actions instigated by its governing body – and the entire board of foundation governors were sacked on November 15 by the Rt Revd Michael Evans.

In a letter leaked to the East Anglian Daily Times the dismissed governors have defended their action against Mrs Lawrence and accused the diocese of East Anglia and the Local Education Authority (LEA) of not acting with “sufficient urgency or concern” regarding the school’s deterioration – despite what they claim is both authorities’ duty of care for children at St Joseph’s.

Throughout the upheaval, the diocese and the LEA have remained tight-lipped on the reasons for Mrs Lawrence’s absence, stating that legal implications meant confidentiality was necessary.

But in the letter sent to parents by six of the seven former governors they said Mrs Lawrence had been “absent from the school” following actions instigated by the whole governing body. The action was said to be in relation to significant issues regarding “the ongoing wellbeing of all members of the school community”.

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The letter added: “You need to know that our decision was taken after very careful consideration, taking into account the situation that had developed over the previous nine months and after an alarming number of complaints and concerns were raised by parents and teachers.”

According to the governors they were told they would be removed from office on October 28, a week after Mrs Lawrence went absent.

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“The reasons given were that we had brought the school into disrepute and that we had failed to uphold the Catholic ethos,” they added.

In the letter they go on to say that a 268-page dossier of concerns and complaints by teachers and parents was submitted to the bishop stating their reasons for the decision regarding Mrs Lawrence.

They added: “We asked for a meeting with the bishop, but were refused. On November 15 we were removed from office. The final removal letter did not give any reasons other than there were ‘other views’.”

Father Mark Hackeson, speaking on behalf of the bishop, said their removal took place after the governors were asked to make written representations to the bishop.

He said: “In the light of those representations which were received and carefully considered, and acting upon the Diocesan Schools Service Commission, the bishop formally removed the governors.”

He added that the decision was made with the support of the LEA.

A Suffolk County Council spokesperson said: “The Local Authority and the Roman Catholic Diocese have worked closely together with the school over a number of months to attempt to resolve a number of issues. These matters remain confidential but they have been given urgent attention by the local authority and the needs of the children have always been paramount in everybody’s actions.”

One parent, who did not want to be named, criticised the diocese for not being more open about the situation and added: “We do not feel the decisions they are making have any regard for the interests of the children and that is unacceptable.”

Despite a petition being launched by parents at the school demanding the reinstatement of the sacked governors, which currently stands at 62, the diocese announced that a new governing body would be appointed by them and was expected to meet this week.

A meeting was due to take place last night between parents and Julie O’Connor, director of the East Anglian Diocesan School’s Service, to discuss the issue of the school’s governors and the future of the school.

Letter from former foundation governors to parents:

Dear Parents

We are writing to you on behalf of the foundation governors of St Josephs who were removed from office by Bishop Michael, on 15th November 2010. We are Carla Moore, Simon Coll, Liam McEntegart, Charles Morelli, Susan Bowyer, and Bob Skillicorn and together we have a collective history of over 35 years as governors of the school.

We worked voluntarily and our role was specifically to protect the Catholic ethos of the school and more broadly, as part of the Governing Body, to secure high standards of education, set policies as well as managing finances. We have a wide background of skills and professional expertise in leadership roles in business, finance, Human Resources, the armed services as well as education. Our primary concern was, and is, the education and wellbeing of the children. All of the governing body are parents with children who are either currently at St Joseph’s or have been.

The headteacher has been absent from school since 21st October 2010 as a result of actions instigated by the whole governing body of the school, in relation to significant issues regarding the ongoing wellbeing of all members of the school community. However, you need to know that our decision was taken after very careful consideration, taking into account the situation that had developed over the previous nine months and after an alarming number of complaints and concerns were raised by parents and teachers.

We had repeatedly brought these concerns to the attention of the LEA and the Diocese, requesting their assistance, but they believed there to be no problem. The governing body had been trying to resolve difficulties in the school since January. We tried very hard to resolve matters “in house” over the last year, when this failed we decided to involve the LEA in March. Back in June we wrote to many of you who had expressed concerns about many aspects of the management of the school. In that letter, we explained that we had met with the LEA and the Diocese and that a way forward had been agreed with the Head Teacher to improve the situation. We asked you to contact the Head Teacher directly if you had any further concerns. We realize that in asking you to take up your concerns directly with the Head Teacher, rather with members of the governing body, this caused you further concern and gave you the impression that the Governing Body were doing nothing. In fact that could not have been further from the truth. However this course of action was taken following advice given to us by the LEA and the Diocese. On the 28th October, the foundation governors were informed that they would be removed from office. The reasons given were that we had brought the school into disrepute and that we had failed to uphold the Catholic ethos. We were given five days to make a representation to the Bishop. We submitted a 268 page dossier detailing the concerns and complaints staff and parents had made to us since March, which we believed argued very effectively against the reasons. We asked for a meeting with the Bishop, but were refused. On 15th November we were removed from office. The final removal letter did not give any reason other than there were “other views”.

We are all extremely disturbed that the situation in the school has continued to deteriorate, despite the efforts of the Governing Body to reverse it. It is our belief that the authorities who have a duty of care for the education of the children have not acted with sufficient urgency or concern.

Throughout the last nine months the governors experienced a lack of support from both the LEA and the Diocese. Some of you who have contacted the LEA or the Diocese in the last few months may be able to bear witness to this apparent disregard.

Since our removal we have kept our counsel, out of respect for the school and for our strong concern for the education and welfare of all the children. We recognise that this has been, and remains, a very difficult time for all of you.

However, having seen the recent articles in the East Anglian Daily Times, and realising that the Diocese has decided to put out its version of the situation making it very clear that it believes that the problem lies solely with the foundation governors, we felt that we needed to react to ensure that parents have a clear understanding of the key facts, so that you may be better equipped to decide how you would like things to move forward.

The most important consideration now is that the school regains the position that it had as a beacon for what is good and right in primary Catholic education.

Yours sincerely

Carla Moore

Simon Coll

Liam McEntegart

Susan Bowyer

Bob Skillicorn

Charles Morelli

3rd December 2010

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