Monday, 15 July 2019

Celebrated Catholic Choirs in Crisis – Part 1

[See rolling updates below]

A.D. 2019 has not been a happy year for two of the world’s most high profile and important Catholic liturgical choirs. Both the Westminster Cathedral Choir in London, and the Sistine Chapel Choir in the Vatican, have been plunged into separate, but potentially equally grave, crises that could threaten their respective reputations, and have profoundly damaging repercussions for the cause of high quality Catholic liturgical music across the world.

Part 1 of this post will look at the Westminster Cathedral Choir School crisis. Part 2 will look at the Sistine Chapel Choir crisis. 

I cannot stress enough that, while the Vatican Choir’s situation (as you will see in Part 2) involves allegations of financial misconduct against choir personnel, the Westminster Cathedral Choir crisis has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with any misconduct by anyone. Rather, it concerns the decision by the Head Master (Mr Neil McLaughlan) and the Governors of the Westminster Cathedral Choir School (chaired by Mr David Heminway), backed to the hilt by Cardinal Vincent Nichols (who is the President of the School and Director of the Westminster Diocese Trustee which controls the Charity which runs the Choir School), to abolish Full Boarding by the choristers for the duration of their tenure (i.e. send them home on Friday afternoon, and bring them back on Sunday morning).

What appears to be a minor change actually has profound practical implications, foremost of which (in my mind) is that the number of services (Mass) at which the Full Choir sings will be drastically cut back, and a close second is that the choristers will have to travel to the Cathedral on Sunday morning for the Principal Mass of the week which will increase fatigue and result in much absenteeism. Each of the other consequences, in combination, could (and probably will) spell disaster for this great Choir.

I have blogged before about the Choir's near-death experiences. Then, the illustrious and beloved past Cardinal Archbishops have personally interceded to protect the Choir from harm. It now falls to Cardinal Nichols to do the same, assuming he made his decision without the benefit of honest and unfiltered briefings. If his decision was based on information from the Head Master and Board of Governors that is less than forthright, which, given the profoundly damaging consequences the changes will have, is a reasonable assumption, then the Cardinal can reverse his decision without losing any face whatsoever.

Perhaps the best possible course of action to take immediately is to DEFER the implementation of the new boarding regime until the Cardinal is able to look at the facts afresh (the facts being as I set them out below).  

Part 1 – Westminster Cathedral Choir

Part 1 of this post looks at the factual background to, and reasoning behind, the decision by the Board of Governors, Head Master, and Cardinal Vincent Gerard Nichols personally, to abolish full boarding altogether at the Westminster Cathedral Choir School. Was it made fairly, and with a proper basis? And have the Governors been transparent in communicating the decision to the parents and wider community?

There has been significant media interest in this story, as per the following (non-exhaustive) list, and I have drawn heavily on these articles for my facts:

Chronology

It may be useful to set out some key dates and events in this crisis:

·       Sometime before March 2019: Unknown persons undertook four months’ “research and consultation” with unspecified numbers of “chorister parents” and parents of “non-joiner families” (whoever they may be), and (remarkably) “all the major choir schools in England, including those of the Oxbridge college” (though these are not named) – this quite extraordinary claim will become highly relevant as you will see below;

·       March 2019: The Board of Governors presented a document entitled “Strengthening the Chorister Tradition for 2019 and Beyond” (the “Recommendations”) in which a series of recommendations were made to Cardinal Nichols – I have not seen this document but would like to – it is critical to this whole affair;**

·      Unknown: Cardinal Vincent Nichols consults with the Archbishop’s Council (members not identified), the Trustees of the Diocese of Westminster (see graphic below), the Cathedral’s Chapter (members not identified), the Cathedral’s Administrator (Canon Christopher Tuckwell) and Master of Music (Mr Martin Baker).  It is not clear if the Recommendations were presented before or after the Cardinal’s own consultations took place, although the letter dated 28 March referred to below suggests the latter (see the part where, having mentioned the Recommendations, it states that the Cardinal “in turn” carried out his own consultations);

·       March 2019: Cardinal Nichols “agrees to” the Recommendations in full and without, apparently, any changes. These are then set out in the letter dated 28 March referred to below (in other words, it was both something that the Cardinal is supposed to have made significant inquiries about, but then simply “rubber-stamped” - i.e. none of his inquiries caused him or his advisers to give comments back to the Board of Governors to make changes to the Recommendations);

·       28 March 2019: The Chair of Governors, Mr David Heminway, writes to the parents of choristers (not all parents), copying in the Cardinal and Cathedral Music Department, notifying of the Changes, which are exactly the same as the Recommendations made to (and then agreed by) the Cardinal.

[** The oldest trick in the book - Entitle the report that is intended to destroy X something that implies the exact opposite - in this case, you intend to critically Weaken X (the Cathedral Choir), so the Report into the Changes must be called perversely "Strengthening the Choir". Well, that trick may have worked in 1976 when the Choir School Boarding was last re-cast, but it won't work in 2019 I'm afraid]

Here is the full text of the letter:




We are thus being asked to believe that, having undertaken months of research, and presented the “fruits” of this to the Cardinal in March 2019, recommending a wholesale change to the choristers’ boarding programme that had been in place since 1976 (and then only updated to take account of the new presence of day boys), the Cardinal then undertook wide consultation of his own, and within the very same month (March 2019) agreed to the changes so that they could be formally communicated to all and sundry.  If that is true, then it is an example of the Catholic Church’s bureaucracy acting with unprecedented alacrity and efficiency. "Unprecedented” as in “never seen before”. 

Why don’t we then explore the key decision makers involved. 

Key Players

The Westminster Cathedral Choir School is charity, registered with the Charity Commission (No. 1063761).  Its annual reportfor 2018 (dated 31 August 2018) sets out the key facts and personnel.  For instance, the charity is wholly controlled by the Westminster Roman Catholic Diocese Trustee. The directors of this entity – a company limited by guarantee – are the “Trustees of the Diocese of Westminster” referred to above.  Their identities are listed below, as are those of the school’s Board of Governors. 





So, let’s have a look at just how wide the Cardinal’s consultation was. We are told that the Cardinal (not his advisers) consulted with:

·         the Trustees of the Diocese of Westminster, of which he is himself a Director (and let’s face it, the Big Chief Director – indeed he, apparently alone, has power to appoint, and presumably dismiss, Directors - see graphic above);

·         the Archbishop’s Council: no doubt, Cardinal Nichols is also the head of this Council, and what are the chances of, say, Canon Christopher Tuckwell also sitting on this Council? And what about Fr Alexander Master, the Cardinal's Private Secretary? [see update below]

·         the Cathedral’s Chapter: again, the Cardinal must be the head of the Chapter, and it would likely include Canon Christopher Tuckwell and probably Fr Alexander Master too [see update below];

·         Cathedral’s Administrator: yes, you guessed it, this is Canon Christopher Tuckwell. 

Update: It appears Fr Master is on the Archbishop's Council, while Canon Tuckwell may not be, according to the 2017 Annual Report for the Westminster Diocese Trust. But Canon Tuckwell is certainly on the Chapter of Canons!



We know from the School's Annual Report that Canon Christopher Tuckwell and Fr Alexander Master sit on the Board of Governors of the School.  So you have a situation whereby the people who are making the Recommendations for change (the Governors) are exactly the same people with whom the Cardinal is apparently consulting in relation to those very changes. I wonder what they could possibly be telling him?

The only “independent” person or body with whom the Cardinal is said to have "consulted" is Martin Baker, the Master of Music (arguably the single most important person with whom to consult, as, oh, only that person who happens to be in charge of the choristers for which the school was founded by Cardinal Vaughan in 1902!) And I’m led to believe the changes were a fait accompli by then and/or any feedback from the Master of Music was completely ignored (well it obviously was). 

The Cathedral Choir School

Let’s take a further look at the governance of the Choir School – extracted from the Annual Report for2018:



I’ve not seen the Trust Deed dated 8 July 1997 (as amended if indeed it has been) by which the School is governed, but would like to. It is critical in this affair. 

What seems key, to me, are the following facts:

·         We can see the progression of the school from boarding chorister-only, to mixed with day boys, to (as of 2017) admitting pre-prep boys as well.  In other words, the School’s focus has been moving proportionally away from its foundation status as a Choir School per se, to more broadly being an all-purpose (albeit still single-sex) preparatory (and now pre-preparatory – sort of Big Nursery) school. 

·         Nevertheless, unless there has been an unannounced formal change to the Trust Deed of the School (the 1997 document), one has to assume that its charter still requires it to provide choristers “to sing the daily capitular liturgy in the … Cathedral”.  The (now accepted and implemented) Recommendations contradict this, as choristers (being home at the weekends) will no longer sing at the Saturday morning (capitular) Mass, nor at the Friday evening (capitular) Mass.  It appears also that the only Vespers at which the choristers (and hence Full Choir) will sing will be on Sundays (what a travesty!)

·         The School is “the only Roman Catholic Boarding School” and as such, has a national catchment area. The practical implications of the abolition of Full Boarding are that only London-based children will be able to apply as choristers, as so ably demonstrated by Colin Mawby in his Catholic Herald article.  Bye bye to those from the non-Home Counties.  We do not want you anymore.  Sad. 

The 28 March 2019 letter – Line by line

Let’s drill down into the claims made in the letter, shall we? There is some sleight of hand (to say the least), as you’ll see.  For a letter written by the Chairman of the Board of Governors of a prestigious academic institution, I will start by saying that the drafting leaves a lot to be desired (or is just part of the ambiguity for which he, perhaps, was striving). 

There are only two express reasons proffered for the changes:

1. Moving with the times;

2. Pastoral care (more family time for the choristers). 

Neither stands up to even the slightest scrutiny, as will be demonstrated below. 

A third reason is proffered implicitly:

3. We have consulted all the top choir schools in the country, and are following suit. 

Claim No. 1 – We need to move with the times


So here we are told (without any citation of a source) that in 1976, about 2,500 boys “boarded at 8+”.  We are not told whether that meant Full Board. This is important.  Then we are told that today, “that number” [remember we don’t really know what “that number” originally signified] is less than 350 boys “including choir schools”. See what they did there as well: the implication is that the 2,500 figure might not have included choir schools, thus making the relative drop appear even greater. But of course it did include choir schools. 

Again, we are also not told expressly or by reference to any source if the 350 figure is Full Board or not.  What if the 350 figure was Full Board, and the 2,500 figure was Full Board + all other types of Lesser Board? Then, the comparison is not a fair one.

Now, I’m willing to give the Chairman the benefit of the doubt on that one, despite the fact that he probably doesn’t deserve it. Why? Here’s why, as we come to the next sleight of hand:

We are told that, variously, the figures are for boys who “board 8+”, and “24/7 boarding among eight year old boys has all but disappeared”.  In other words, the author is at pains to say that the figures are for those students who board (on Full Board) when they are actually aged eight.  It totally ignores the schools (especially choir schools) whose youngest boys (say, aged eight) start their first year as probationers on Part Board, before transitioning into Full Board later on when they are a little older.  If the figures cut out a whole lot of such students, then they are highly misleading.  I deal more with this below because it is highly relevant to those “major choir schools” all (in England) of which the Board of Governors supposedly consulted with. 

[Spoiler: all the top, top choir schools in England I researched still have 24/7 boarding, but this is phased in over the first year or two of a chorister's tenure. So saying that 24/7 boarding amongst eight year olds may be true, but it is misleading to suggest that therefore it should be abolished not just for the eight year old choristers, but for all choristers of whatever age - which is NOT what the major choir schools in England do in fact - see below.]

The final unsettling part of this whole particular claim is this: even if Full Boarding has “gone out of fashion” more broadly, it is probably the case that the 350 boys who still Full Board (even at the tender age of eight) are likely to be almost all choristers!  In other words, maybe there are very good and important reasons why Full Boarding is especially suited to (and indeed a requirement for) the majority of choristers who supply a major cathedral’s daily music, even in 2019! This is not a point dealt with by the Chair’s letter, because again, the source of the figures is not given when it ought to have been. 

Was the Cardinal properly briefed about these figures? If not, why not?

I’m going to move, out of order, to Claim No.3

Claim No. 3: We have consulted all the top choir schools in the country, and are following suit


It is quite a claim to make that you have consulted with “all the major choir schools in England, including those of the Oxbridge colleges.”  Now the author (in his typical ambiguous style), does not define for us what the “major choir schools” are. But we are given some sense by his inclusion of the choir schools of the Oxbridge colleges in that phrase.  It would also therefore include all the choir schools of the great Cathedral towns. Canterbury, Winchester, Chichester, Portsmouth, Wells, Salisbury, Norwich, Ely, Lincoln, Durham, Exeter, Litchfield, Truro and many, many more, without even mentioning the London based ones.  That’s a whole lot of consulting by the Governors amongst many people who were obviously ready, willing and able to give their time to be consulted with! Wow, I’m impressed! I’d love to see their expenses from all those trips to the provinces! 

Anyway, I don’t have the luxury of doing all this “consulting”, so (and I know it’s the poor man’s way), I simply had to check some facts online. 

These are the first (and only) world-class choir schools I have checked to verify the Governors’ (implied) claims that Full Boarding was no longer prevalent amongst “all the major choir schools of England”.  Of course, bear in mind we know that Westminster Cathedral Choir School is the only Catholic school of its kind.  So it becomes an especially important institution by that reason alone. There is no other like it in the World (let alone elsewhere in England).  

Westminster Abbey Choir School, London 

Boarding: 24/7 board after the first year

Arguably the most “major” of them all, and near neighbours of the Cathedral. Here is their current prospectus which I generously extract to demonstrate how easily this could all apply to the (current) Westminster Cathedral Choir - note especially that the Abbey and Cathedral Choirs both have prolific recording programmes with Hyperion (and other famous) labels which is a source of fame and income:




  
King’s College Cambridge Choir School 

Boarding: Two year probationary period transitioning to 24/7 board after that

The other contender for most “major” of them all. 



Christchurch Cathedral, Oxford 

Boarding: 24/7 after first year, with some Saturdays free too

Both and college chapel and Cathedral, this is a closer comparison to Westminster Cathedral than, say, some other Oxbridge colleges, some of which no longer have the boys in on Sunday mornings in term time. 


What about a non-Oxbridge provincial cathedral?

Ely, Cambridgeshire 

Boarding: transition to 24/7 board, with options for weekend visits at the boys’ choice



CONCLUSION: The Chairman’s letter is an old-fashioned stitch up! Not one of the major-major (sound a bit Catch-22), or even the minor-major, choir schools that first sprang into my mind seems to have ditched 24/7 boarding. Unfortunately for the Chairman, some equally old fashioned hard work and research (aided by the very modern internet) is able to bring this to light. 

If the Board of Governors was being fully up-front, they would say that they are ignoring what equivalent world-class choir schools are doing (i.e. a transition style boarding arrangement), and instead going straight from Full Board for all the boys of all ages, to Part Board for all the boys of all ages. See - it's pretty simple to be clear and honest if you want to be! 

Was the Cardinal made aware that the Head Master and Governors were going AGAINST the Boarding regimes at equivalent world-class choir schools? If not, why not?

Was the Cardinal even made aware of the nature of the boarding regimes at the nearest equivalent choir schools in England? (i.e. part time boarding transitioning to 24/7 after the first year or two?) If not, why not?

Claim No. 2: It’s for the pastoral care of the chorister

Absolute tosh, I’m afraid.  Read each and every Full Board programme at the above choir schools and ample – no, generous – provision is made for pastoral care, leisure time, family visits to the school, and chorister visits to the family at regular intervals. None have seen fit to shut down the choir school altogether at weekends, forcing the children to go home on Friday evenings. This is especially ill conceived in nightmarish London with the commute involved (believe me, I’m a daily sufferer on the Southeastern trains from and to Kent every morning and evening peak hours).  And then the poor boys are hauled out of bed on Sunday morning to have to commute back to the Cathedral for the “source and summit” liturgy, instead of simply traipsing a few yards. I know when I was that age, it was hell for my parents to get me and my two sisters to Mass on time and in good spirits!

And if you want further proof that claim is utter nonsense, consult these two reports: an OFSTED report from 2008 and a much more recent (Nov 2018) report from the Independent Schools Inspectorate.  The OFSTED report from over a decade ago highlighted a problem with bullying, but found that Most parents are exceptionally happy with the care and education their sons receive.” Improvements were being made at that time in terms of greater provision of leisure activities, but there was no suggestion that family time was too restricted or that either the boys or the parents wanted (or needed) this to be increased. 

And a bombshell: in the November 2018 ISI Report, we read that:



So the Westminster Cathedral Choir School already consulted regarding other similar choir schools, made and then implemented pastoral changes aimed at boarder well-being shortly before November 2018!! The ISI’s Report is a glowing endorsement of the Choir School and boarding arrangements - the School rightly boasts about it (see below).  Why on earth was there then (immediately) a 4-month long further review from December 2018 to March 2019 which then made recommendations wholly inconsistent with the boarding programmes at other similar world class choir schools??

OFSTED REPORT (2008)



ISI Report (2018)








The Westminster Choir School advertises its excellent score in the 2018 Inspection report

So the claim that the change to the boarding arrangements was necessary due to pastoral considerations has been comprehensively debunked.

Was the Cardinal made aware of the November 2018 ISI Report? If not, why not?

Was the Cardinal aware that the Choir School had already (shortly prior to the 2018 ISI Report) consulted other equivalent choir schools and implemented changes that resulted in the glowing November 2018 ISI Report? If not, why not?


Conclusions


I shall not speculate, as some others have, that the real reason for the changes is (eventually) to pave the way for the abolition of boarding altogether. Or perhaps financial considerations (if these two issues are not inherently linked anyway).

All we can say for sure is that NONE of the reasons proffered by the Head Master, Board of Governors (and ultimately accepted by the Cardinal) withstand scrutiny. So there MUST be other reasons for the changes. In the absence of transparent disclosure from the School and Cathedral authorities, chorister parents (many of whom are against the changes), the Cathedral Music Department (who are completely against the changes), parishioners of the Cathedral and the wider Catholic community in England & Wales and beyond are entitled to draw negative inferences.

Implications

The choir will now rehearse less.

It will also sing at daily Mass a lot less. That means the average punter in the pew has less chance to hear the choir, and the choir less chance to practice its art "for real". We will all be diminished by this, as Colin Mawby put it so well.

Perhaps most damaging of all, as I allude to above (and as is also so ably demonstrated by Colin Mawby), the boys will have to be transported by their families to Sunday Morning Mass at the Cathedral. This will invariably result in lateness, non-attendance and lethargy amongst the choristers (less sleep to account for travel time). Now I know how important this is. I live in greater London (Borough of Bromley). It takes 50 mins for me to drive to the Cathedral on a good Sunday, and that's without road works (i.e. never). It takes 20 mins on the train, which are so often not running on Sundays due to engineering works (or are late / cancelled / diverted) if they are running. It's a lottery if I can even get to the Cathedral on time or at all. If the trains are not running, I basically do not go to Westminster Cathedral for Mass, too long and arduous the drive into central London is. What about for the chorister parents on a weekly basis? Or is the Cardinal expecting them all to commute from as close as Kensington with a police escort?

Down to the facts:




I demonstrate graphically below the services we will lose the choristers from in any given week, and the two lots of Vespers (on Christmas Day and Easter Day) that we will also lose (travesty!)






Now, I will leave it to the experts to opine on whether these cut-backs will affect the quality of the choir's singing. However, what they say is this:




And what of the professional men? If there is even a perception (yes perceptions are important too) that the quality of the choir will be diminished, then the professional men who offer their services will likely think twice about whether they want to be associated with the choir’s output. These are men who sing in the top London and International choirs. They have professional reputations to consider. Lose the best of these, and the choir’s path to demise will be a very short one indeed.

Key Further Documents

If any legal action is being considered in relation to this decision, then I would recommend, as a bare minimum, getting genuine copies of the Recommendations dated March 2019 (which will show how the Changes were framed to the Cardinal), the Trust Deed dated 8 July 1997 in accordance with which the School is governed (which is necessary to show whether the Changes are lawful), and whatever document was penned by the Cardinal (presumably drafted by an aide and not the Cardinal personally) in which he stated that: 



From the context, it appears to be the letter / email by which he communicated his agreement to the Governors’ Recommendations.  By quoting from this document in the letter to parents, it is fair game for the whole of that document to be published (and indeed transparency requires it) and I call upon the Cardinal’s Office and the Board of Governors to do so without delay, along with the other documents listed above. 

Key Clarifications from the Head Master, Board of Governors, and the Cardinal

I have set out above in the documents that the Board of Governors must release publicly in the interests of full transparency.

I have also set out in red text the questions that the Head Master, Board of Governors, and the Cardinal, must answer to address the serious issues raised on the face of the 29 March 2019 letter to chorister parents. I set them out again below.

Now, if the Cardinal was aware of the full background to the recommended Changes (i.e. that they were not actually based on or supported by the reasons cited in the letter) AND still approved the recommendations, then that is that.  

But if I were the Cardinal, and I became aware that I may have been hoodwinked (or had crucial details of the background withheld from me), and made a public decision erroneously as a result, then I would feel profoundly embarrassed and want to put the brakes on the Recommendations being implemented until further investigations are carried out. There would be no shame in that, and indeed it would be essential to do so.  

So, here again are the most critical questions arising from the letter to chorister parents:

What does the 1997 Trust Deed require the Choir School (a Charity regulated by the Charities Commission) to actually do in terms of proving choristers for the Cathedral?

What is the full text of the Recommendations made to the Cardinal in March 2019?

Was the Cardinal properly briefed about the unsourced statistics about boys' boarding in 1976 vs 2019? If not, why not?

Was the Cardinal made aware that the Head Master and Governors were going AGAINST the Boarding regimes at equivalent world-class choir schools? If not, why not?

Was the Cardinal even made aware of the nature of the boarding regimes at the nearest equivalent choir schools in England? (i.e. part time boarding transitioning to 24/7 after the first year or two?) If not, why not?

Was part time transitioning into full board offered as an option for the School in the Recommendation (or in any briefing note associated with the Recommendation, since the Recommendations themselves seem to have simply been as outlined in the letter)?

Was the Cardinal made aware of the November 2018 ISI Report? If not, why not?

Was the Cardinal aware that the Choir School had already (shortly prior to the 2018 ISI Report) consulted other equivalent choir schools and implemented changes that resulted in the glowing November 2018 ISI Report? If not, why not?

Who drafted the correspondence by which the Cardinal agreed to the Recommendations of the Head Master and Board of Governors?

UPDATE 1

I emailed the Cardinal, Head Master and Chair of the Board of Governors yesterday afternoon.  
I linked to my blog and set out a series of questions as per Table 1 Below. I have received a response (and "Account of the current situation" dated 17 July whose authorship and date of drafting is unknown) from the Cardinal's PA Ms Ellen Dunleavy, for which I am grateful. No response from the Head Master or Chair of the Board of Governors.  

The Account is clearly a "stock" response sent to anyone who writes to the Cardinal on this issue. I have replied a short time ago with two rounds of further questions, which I set out as Table 2 and Table 3 below. I will publish any clarifications that are provided, in the interests of uttermost fair dealing and transparency.  

The Account



Table 1


Query
Cardinal’s Comment
Head Master’s Comment
Board of Governor’s Comment
What does the 1997 Trust Deed require the Choir School (a Charity regulated by the Charities Commission) to actually do in terms of providing choristers for the Cathedral? Please provide the whole document for review. 



What is the full text of the Recommendations made to the Cardinal in March 2019?



Was the Cardinal properly briefed about the unsourced statistics about boys' boarding in 1976 vs 2019? If not, why not?



Was the Cardinal made aware that the Head Master and Governors, in making their Recommendations, were going AGAINST the Boarding regimes in place at equivalent world-class choir schools in England? If not, why not?



Was the Cardinal even made aware of the nature of the boarding regimes at the nearest equivalent choir schools in England? (i.e. part time boarding transitioning to 24/7 after the first year or two?) If not, why not?



Was part time transitioning into full board offered as an option for the Choir School in the Recommendation (or in any briefing note associated with the Recommendation, since the Recommendations themselves seem to have simply been as outlined in the letter)?



Was the Cardinal made aware of the November 2018 Independent Schools Inspectorate Report which gave a glowing assessment of the choristers’ well-being? If not, why not?



Was the Cardinal aware that the Choir School had already (shortly prior to the Nov 2018 Independent Schools Inspectorate  Report) consulted other equivalent choir schools and implemented changes that resulted in the glowing November 2018 ISI Report? If not, why not?



Who drafted the correspondence by which the Cardinal agreed to the Recommendations of the Head Master and Board of Governors, which is quoted in the 28 March 2019 letter to chorister parents?




Table 2


Question
Cardinal’s response
Head Master’s response
Chairman of the BoG’s response
Preliminary questions regarding your email response
Has the Cardinal personally read the content of my email dated 16 July?



Has the Cardinal personally read the blog post for which a link was provided in that email?



Did the Cardinal personally ask you to send your response to that email?



Has Fr Alexander Master, the Cardinal’s Private Secretary, personally read the content of email dated 16 July?



Has Fr Alexander Master personally read the blog post for which a link was provided in that email?



Did Fr Alexander Master personally ask you to send your response to that email?



Preliminary questions that arise from the Account
·         The Account is dated 17 July 2019. Was the Account drafted on this date, wholly or substantially?

·         If not, when was it wholly or substantially drafted?



·         Who drafted this document?

·         Was it the Cardinal personally?

·         Fr Alexander Master personally?

·         The Head Master personally?

·         The Chairman of the Board of Governor’s personally?

·         By someone instructed by any of these people (if so, please specify by whom it was instructed)?



The Account is unsigned. 

·         Who settled this document?

·         Was it the Cardinal personally?

·         Fr Alexander Master personally?

·         The head Master personally?

·         The Chairman of the Board of Governor’s personally?

·         By someone instructed by any of these people (if so, please specify by whom it was instructed to be settled)?

·         Was it settled in writing or verbally?



Has the Cardinal personally seen the text of the Account dated 17 July 2019?



The issue of chorister recruitment per se was not given as a reason for the boarding changes change in Mr Heminway’s letter to chorister parents dated 28 March.

Why is this?

This is especially important given that in the Account it is now offered as the sole or only reason for the Cardinal agreeing to the changes.   



·         Was the reason chorister recruitment was cited as the reason for the change only due to the fact that it became clear that the original reasons published (in the letter dated 28 March) did not stand up to scrutiny?

·         If not, when did issue if chorister recruitment become the sole reason of the changes?

·         Where is this recorded?



The premise of the Account is that the Cardinal has based his decision solely on the recruitment issue.

Please (according to my earlier request) provide the full, unedited text of the document "Strengthening the Chorister Tradition for 2019 and Beyond” in the same form it was sent to the Cardinal, and the Cardinal’s response thereto (quoted in the 28 March letter) confirming his decision to agree to the Recommendations, and any other form of briefing note brought into existence in the lead up to the Recommendations being sent to the Cardinal.

This is necessary to confirm that chorister recruitment was one of the issues proffered to the Cardinal as the basis for the Recommended changes. 



The Account states that chorister recruitment had been an issue for the last 5 years. What steps did the Choir School (Head Master, Board of Governors, and anyone else connected thereto) take to address this before it apparently became so dire as to (in the Choir School’s view) require the changes now being implemented?



Who is responsible for chorister recruitment?

Who runs the recruitment campaigns?

Please provide all details of recruitment campaigns, including the figures for number of choristers applying for voice trials, year on year for the last 10 years. 



It is common practice for organisations such as schools and businesses to have 5 to 10 year plans for the organisation, its growth, and future direction.  If the abolition of boarding at the Choir School altogether were to have been planned, it would be part of such a 5 to 10 year plan.

·         Is the abolition of boarding altogether at the Choir School planned?

·         Has its complete abolition ever been discussed, minuted, or formally or informally agreed to in the last 10 years?

·         Is it part of a long term plan for the Choir School?  

·         Have the Choir School, the Trustees of the Diocese of Westminster, or any party connected therewith, lodged any documents with the Council of the City of Westminster (or any other relevant Body) in relation to the planned alteration, or change in use, of the boarders’ accommodation or the possibility of doing so in the future?

·         If not, has any of these entities engaged or spoken to professionals, or spoken or discussed internally, about the possibility of changing the use of the boarders’ accommodation in the future? 



If the complete abolition of boarding is not currently on the cards, or part of any plan for the short, medium of long term future of the Choir School, would the Cardinal be willing to confirm this, by writing and signing a note to this effect?



Other questions are set out in a marked up version of the Account. 




Table 3


Text of Account
Comments
Questions
The challenge that has had to be addressed in recent months was that in the last five years the number of families approaching the school for voice trials for their sons had more than halved.

Halved from what to what?

See below questions re recruitment practices in the “last five years”. 
Admissions of choristers had reached a level that, if not addressed, risked the future of the choir.

The implication is that the numbers had fallen to this point BECAUSE OF the full boarding situation. Please provide evidence for this. 

See below questions re recruitment practices. 
Since the announcement of the changes in boarding, the number of families seeking admission for their sons has doubled.

How many were seeking admission before the changes?

How many after? How many of these did so AS A RESULT OF THE changes to boarding? Since this is the implication of the statement, how can you demonstrate this to be true?
Furthermore, there are already a good number of families approaching the school for admission to the choir in September 2020.

How many? What evidence is there these people have approached the school AS A RESULT OF the change in boarding as you imply they have by making this statement?
In February this year, when the process of consultation was being concluded, there was one new chorister for admission to the choir in September 2019.

When did the Sept 2019 recruitment campaign begin and end?

According to the Tablet, the Cardinal said:

“For 2019/20 we have just one probationer confirmed, with two offers out. There are no further enquiries, despite an expensive national marketing campaign, a meticulously-run open morning, and a £10,000 promotional video.”

Give details of the “expensive national marketing campaign”.

Give details of the “meticulously-run open morning”. How does the Cardinal know that it was meticulously-run”? Did he attend?

How were families invited to attend the chorister open day? How many attended?

Please provide a copy of the “£10,000 promotional video”

Who is responsible for recruitment of chorister-pupils?

Who is currently responsible for recruitment campaigns for chorister pupils? If different, who has been responsible for the recruitment campaigns for each of the last 5 years?

Detail each of the recruitment campaigns for the 5 years before the unsuccessful 2019 campaign?

Please comment on the assertion in the Tablet that the recruitment campaign was not at all well run:

“As for the recruitment issue, some question whether over the last few years there has really been a concerted, upbeat effort to spread the news of the wonderful full-time chorister experience to the country’s 2,134 Catholic primary schools in Britain. At the annual “meticulously-run open morning” referred to by Cardinal Nichols, no chorister parents are invited along to allay the fears of prospective parents who might be nervous about full-boarding for their sons. The school only needs to find five new probationers each year from the vast national pool; and if the full-boarding experience were properly respected and treasured by the headmaster, many of the current chorister parents feel sure he would have little trouble recruiting.”

And see below questions. 
Now, seven new choristers will be joining in September: this is unprecedented.

I appreciate that seven choristers joining in September 2019 must be unprecedented, as that date hasn’t come around yet. Please explain how this is otherwise “unprecedented”. Please provide all necessary data to support this statement (e.g. records chorister admissions dating back to 1902 or at least as far back as 1976).

When were these “seven new choristers” first approached, or when did they first approach the school showing interest in joining the choir?

Were any of these 7 choristers ones who turned down places previously (or were among those whose parents who had previously considered sending their sons to the school)? If so, what were the specific reasons they turned down places initially?

The importance of this is, if the 7 were entirely or substantially new:

- there is no way of saying whether they would or would not have joined under the old boarding regime. They simply said yes to the new one without being offered full board;

- it means that there were other more important reasons that the other boys who considered attending earlier but decided not to, did so for other reasons, not the boarding (likely to be that they received an offer at what their parents considered to be a better school)

When was the PDF flyer “an opportunity your son” first conceived? http://www.choirschool.com/downloads/Westminster-An-opportunity-for-your-son-flyer.pdf
The process of consultation involved both parents of current choristers and those who had considered sending their sons to the school.

The newspaper articles in relation to this issue state that many chorister parents feel that they were NOT properly consulted.  E.g. a parent writing in the Tablet:

No proper or open consultation process took place. In January the chorister parents were sent a short, innocuous-seeming, box-ticking survey, asking how satisfied they were with their sons’ experience as choristers. Most could not have had any idea of the cataclysmic changes the school had up its sleeve.

When a dark rumour started to circulate, the headmaster reassured them in an email that it was mere “Chinese whispers”. The choristers were formally informed by the staff of the changes only 20 minutes after the email had been sent out, before they’d had a chance to chat to their parents. The three Siemens brothers from Wales had the instant feeling that they would have to leave, which has indeed proved to be the case.”
How many chorister parents were there during the consultation period?

How many of these were consulted?

How else were the current chorister parents consulted, other than by this “short, innocuous-seeming, box-ticking survey, asking how satisfied they were with their sons’ experience as choristers”?

How then were those “who had considered sending their sons to the school” consulted? How many of these were there? How many of them were consulted? What questions were they asked? What responses were given?

How many of the “seven new choristers” are among the children of these parents who were consulted in Feb 2019 as parents “who had considered sending their sons to the school”?

The present pattern of boarding emerged as a significant factor in their views and decisions.

How many of those chorister parents that were consulted gave feedback that “the pattern of boarding” was “a significant factor in their views”?

How many of the parents “who had considered sending their sons to the school” that were actually consulted gave feedback that “the pattern of boarding” was “a significant factor in their views and decisions?”

What does “significant factor” mean? What other factors did these parent give as a basis for their “views and decisions”? Did any of the parents who had considered sending their sons to the school but didn’t actually receive offers? If they did, what were the specific reasons for turning them down? Was he dominant reason the “pattern of boarding”? Which schools did they end up sending their sons to? Were these other schools even choir schools?

Is it correct that the new pattern of boarding forced 3 Welsh choristers to be withdrawn from the Choir?
The consultation subsequently included the Cathedral Chapter and the Trustees of the Diocese.

The Cardinal is the main Trustee of the Diocese. Which other trustees were consulted? How? What were their responses?

Canon Christopher Tuckwell (the Administrator of the Cathedral) sits on the Cathedral Chapter. We know the cardinal consulted him personally. But who did the Head Master and Governors consult among the 18 or so Canons of the Chapter other than Canon Tuckewell?  What were their responses?
The Cathedral Administrator and Master of Music were personally consulted by the Cardinal.

I take it that, by stating separately that Cardinal personally consulted the Cathedral Administrator and Master of Music, that these were the only ones he personally consulted with.  Please confirm?

What did the Master of Music advise the Cardinal  during the consultation?
Care is being taken that musical standards are protected. The choristers currently rehearse on six days of the week; from September they will also rehearse on six days of the week.
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What is the “current” actual number of rehearsal hours?

What will that be from September?

If different (i.e. fewer hours of rehearsals from September), why does the Account not simply state this upfront, to avoid inevitable accusations of obfuscation and deception?

What about singing lessons? Will the actual number of hours of singing lesson be the same, or will there be a drop?

What about hours of performance singing at services? How many hours are lost due to the new boarding arrangement?

Please let me know if the assumptions below are incorrect:

- Two hours fewer for rehearsals
- Two hours fewer for singing lessons
- Two hours fewer for performance signing (for the Fri and Sat masses no longer attended)
- Six hours fewer hours singing overall per week
- Assuming 40 weeks in the choristers’ term time, that’s at least 240 fewer hours per year singing.

In addition, the Sunday Morning rehearsal and Mass will follow immediately after the choristers’ are brought back from their respective homes.  Can you guarantee they will be as rested and well-prepared as if they were on site?

In those circumstances, please explain what “Care is being taken that musical standards are protected”?

What has the Cathedral Music Department advised in this regard? If they have advised that musical standards are likely to drop, on what basis has the Cardinal, Head Master, and Board of Governors satisfied themselves that musical standards will nevertheless be maintained?

Have the professional adult Lay Clerks of the Cathedral Choir advised the Cardinal as to their view on whether musical standards will drop following the changes? If they have advised that musical standards are likely to drop, on what basis has the Cardinal, Head Master, and Board of Governors satisfied themselves that musical standards will be nevertheless be maintained?
The question of finance has never been part of these considerations. No potential chorister has ever been turned away for lack of finance. No contribution to the Chorister Hardship Fund has been declined. Indeed, further contributions are welcome.
I do not see the relevance of this paragraph to any questions I’ve raised in emails to the Cardinal or on my blog. I suspect this gives credence to my suspicion that this is a “stock” response, and must have been drafted much earlier than the 17 July 2019 date that it bears. 
No questions. 
Perhaps it is not surprising that families wish to be able to spend more time with their sons while also being enthusiastic in wanting them to enjoy the experience and commitment of being choristers in Westminster Cathedral Choir.
Not sure of the relevance of this statement. 

The fact is, full time boarding has been in place at Westminster Cathedral since 1902. It continued in place following the admission of day boys in 1976.  It is the reason for the world class standard of the choir.  The onus is on the people changing this regime to justify how this world class standard will be maintained, where almost every other near-equivalent world class choir school in England considers in necessary to maintain full-board to uphold the highest standards.  I demonstrate this on my blog and will not repeat here.  

The use of emotional sleight of hand (as this statement betrays) is unbecoming of the Cardinal (if he actually drafted this sentence) or whoever did draft this sentence. It is emotionally manipulative because it implies that those who want full-boarding to remain somehow do not place importance on the choristers spending as much time as possible with the parents. This is a suggestion wholly unworthy of a Prince of the Church.  And the implication is completely untrue.  Once again, if the author of the Account had bothered to read my blog, they would have seen that the recent ISI Report is glowing in terms of the choristers’ personal well-being and development, and ample family time is already catered for during the week and at weekends. 
No questions. 
17 July 2019
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As per other question: when was this document actually drafted?