Thank you for the many comments and queries that have been sent to me and the calls to our offices received by my team. I am taking this unprecedented step of making a public statement because there are simply too many people to whom I should respond as a matter of courtesy.
While it is important to stress that the school is operated by the sisters of the La Sainte Union Religious Order it is clear from many of the comments I have read in emails, in the online petition and the media that there is a perception that the Archdiocese has done nothing about the strike. This is not true.
For the record, therefore, I met with representatives of the NEU on the 18th November 2019. It should be noted that this meeting was undertaken with the full agreement of the school’s Trustees. It was accepted by all parties that this was taking a risk, given that negotiations via ACAS had broken down. After a lengthy discussion, a proposal was drafted which would have ended the strike and would have allowed the disputes to be brought to a conclusion. I put this proposal to the Trustees immediately. To date, the proposal has not been enacted. Until the 27th November 2019, I continuously encouraged all parties to act upon the proposal. On the 27th November, instead, I was asked by the Trustees to allow them and the ‘Headteacher the space to see the disciplinary process to an end, and to seek to agree a way forward’. This was followed up with an email that sets out where in the view of the school’s advisers, my actions have caused the Archdiocese to lose its neutrality.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am clear that the pupils’ welfare, health and education are matters upon which the Archdiocese will never be neutral. In my view, therefore, the quickest route to resolving the dispute should have been, and must now, be sought.
I have, today, asked our Chaplaincy adviser to resume her work in the school, covering for the absence of the school’s chaplain. I had withdrawn her from the school when I was informed that my actions had apparently compromised the neutrality of the Archdiocese.
Please note that I have also been in regular contact with our link officer at the Regional Schools Commissioner. As a single academy trust, it is only this body that has any statutory powers of intervention. My work has been aimed, rather, at influencing a resolution, as the Archdiocese does not have any authority to cause the changes that are necessary.
Dr Simon Hughes
4th December 2019