Cardinal backs down over court battle on Vaughan
by Peter Stanford CARDINAL Basil Hume this week backed down from a court confrontation over the future of a west London secondary school, but pledged to continue his fight with the government for greater powers over Catholic schools that attempt to "opt out".
The cardinal announced this week that his lawyers had advised him that his refusal to appoint governors at the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in Holland Park, west London, could not be sustained in court. Parents at the school, in an effort to avoid taking part in a diocesan reorganisation of secondary provision in the central and west London area, have voted to opt out. Before an application to do so can be made to Secretary of State for Education, John MacGregor, the cardinal as the trustee of the school must name foundation governors, who make up a majority on the panel. In July the cardinal announced his unwillingness to take this step since he felt that opting out would not best serve the needs of Catholic schoolchildren in the area (Catholic Herald, July 28).
However, this week, on the advice of his law:.ers, the cardinal backed away from the threat of court action and a heafty fine. "It would not be right deliberately to resist the law as a means of changing it when there are other means of doing so", the cardinal said. In his original announcement regarding the foundation governors in July he had also aimed "to draw attention to the serious matters of principle affecting Catholic education in this country", the cardinal stressed.
Westminster diocesan education officials are now seeking an urgent meeting with Mr MacGregor and his staff to urge a change in the law. Although Cardinal Hume has agreed as trustee "to use his best endeavours to find suitable foundation governors willing to serve at the Vaughan School", the diocese is push for a reinforcement of the role of the trustee in opting out cases. The consent of the trustee should be required before opting out can happen, the Catholic officials will argue, if he is to "provide and reorganise Catholic schooling in a manner which best serves the interests of the Catholic community".
At the moment under the 1988 Education Reform Act the trustee is "seriously curtailed" in his capacity to affect what happens in Catholic schools under his charge that aim to opt out, the cardinal said.
The present term of office of the governing panel of the Cardinal Vaughan School is due to expire at the end of this month. It is thought that in the reconstituted governing body that takes over in September, Cardinal Hume's nominees will De people who share his opposition to opting out. The governing body of the school could then carry out its statutory responsibility to forward the application for opting out that has been forced on them by the parents, but at the same time make it clear to Mr MacGregor that they oppose the move.
A decision on the future of the Vaughan and its application to opt out is expected sometime in the autumn. Kathleen O'Gorman, Director of Westminster Diocesean Education Service, expressed the hope this week that "the educational arguments would be those on which Mr MacGregor's decision is based", and not the "emotional" appeals put forward by the parents of children at the school. The educational advantages of a central sixth form college for Catholic pupils in the area outweighed those which favoured the Vaughan keeping its sixth form as the parents want, Mrs O'Gorman said.
Local parish priests in west London expressed their relief this week that the cardinal had decided not to take his fight to court and risk a large fine. "The money would have come out of parish pockets" one said.