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MP calls on Sussex school headteacher to quit after teenager's death
7:06am Tuesday 28th January 2014 in News
The headteacher and chair of governors at a Crawley public school should resign for failings surrounding a pupil's death, a former minister has said.
William Avery-Wright, 13, died after he was knocked down by a 4x4 outside Worth School, near Turners Hill, Crawley, as he crossed a road to play in a rugby match.
The teenager's death was announced to parents by headteacher Gino Carminati before his father Christopher Avery-Wright had been told, MPs heard.
This led to messages of condolence arriving to Mr Avery-Wright via text while he travelled to the hospital.
Charles Hendry (Wealden) also told the Commons the school had breached its health and safety policy by not enforcing a rule to ensure an adult supervised pupils in year seven and eight while they crossed the road.
He said the school's risk assessment ranked the danger to pupils crossing Paddockhurst Road as high although they failed to remove the possibility of injury or harm.
Speaking during a debate on dangerous driving, Mr Hendry (Wealden) claimed the Roman Catholic school should have been prosecuted following William's death in November 2011.
He said it was not too late for Mr Carminati and the chair of governors, Alda Andreotti, to show "genuine contrition" to William's parents by resigning for "dismally" failing in their duty to look after their son.
Mr Hendry added William's parents had also been let down by the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which had decided not to prosecute the school for a "catastrophic breach" of its health and safety rules.
West Sussex County Council was also criticised by the MP for not dropping the road's speed limit from 60mph to 40mph until after William's death, despite receiving letters on the issue.
Mr Hendry told the Commons: "Most of all Mr and Mrs Avery-Wright have been let down in the most shocking and appalling way by the school following the loss of their only child.
"The headmaster who presided over the failure to enforce the school's own health and safety rules, which resulted in the death of a promising student, remains in post two years later.
"Throughout he has been supported by the chair of governors, Mrs Alda Andreotti.
"A school has a duty of care for its students. In this case, Worth Abbey failed that in the most devastating and tragic way.
"In over 20 years since I was first elected to this House I don't think I've ever called publicly for anyone's resignation.
"But I don't understand how two human beings - the headteacher and the chair of governors - whose primary duty should be the well-being of children in their care could possibly countenance staying in post when they have failed so evidently and dismally in those responsibilities with such tragic consequences.
"If they have any decency they would both have resigned as a matter of principle and it is still not too late for them to take that action to show their genuine contrition to William's parents."
A verdict of accidental death was recorded at William's inquest last July.
Following the hearing it emerged his parents were suing the school, where William excelled at cricket, rugby and football, after claiming he should have been supervised by an adult across the road.
Worth School has previously said it published the information about the pupil's death in ''good faith'' but its initial belief that both his parents had been told about the tragedy turned out to be ''incorrect''.
Introducing the case, Conservative MP Mr Hendry told the Commons it appeared the school had at times been more concerned about its reputation than the loss and grief of William's parents.
He said: "The way in which the school handled this incident was horrific and compounded the parents' distress."
Mr Hendry went on: "Although the school has offered their sympathies and condolences on a number of occasions, they have never issued Mr and Mrs Avery-Wright with an apology for William's death in writing or in person and for their failings which they exercised.
"They did receive an apology from the headmaster for his conduct after William's death. The school in many ways wanted to act as if it hadn't happened.
"It seemed as if at times they were more concerned about their own reputation than the loss and the grief of William's parents. Mr and Mrs Avery-Wright understandably wanted to leave flowers at the place of the accident and the guidance from West Sussex County Council is absolutely clear that temporary floral tributes can remain in place for 12 weeks after an accident.
"But on January 5, 2012, just a month after the accident, the headmaster asked that the flowers should be removed as he did not want them there at the start of the new term.
"But, above all, I think what is clear, it is evident, the school breached its own health and safety policy. The coroner's inquest, which took place on July 8 and 9, established that a school rule of pupils in his year - year eight - should not cross the road without adult supervision was not enforced or adhered to.
"The school had long known about the risk. The school bursar, Father Aidan Murray, and the headmaster, Mr Carminati, had co-authored a letter to West Sussex County Council in December 2007, four years before the accident, acknowledging the inherent motorist risks to school pupils crossing the road."
The speed and volume of the traffic on the road were noted as being of "great concern", Mr Hendry said as he explained calls were also made for speed restrictions or traffic calming measures - similar to that of another school - before a fatality occurred.
The Tory continued: "The school was sufficiently concerned with the prospect of injury or death to pupils crossing Paddockhurst Road that this was recorded in the risk register, ranked as high within the register.
"As a result the school committed to action to mitigate the risk by escorting year seven and eight pupils across the road. But as Mr Avery-Wright says in one of his letters: 'The written evidence from pupils interviewed by the police confirms that this action was not enforced or adhered to prior to William's death.'"
Mr Hendry said no planning applications were made by the school for a bridge to be built over the road before the death, although one has been built since.
He added the hazard was identified by the school's risk assessment as requiring urgent, early attention to remove the risk.
The CPS received a police file in January 2012 although it was ruled there were insufficient grounds to proceed with a gross negligence manslaughter prosecution against any individual at the school, the MP said.
Mr Hendry added it was later confirmed the HSE would not be taking any action in respect of William's death.
He told the debate: "It seems that a school can highlight a serious risk in its own risk register, it can propose actions to mitigate those risks but then not implement them.
"And when that results in the death of a child, as far as the HSE is concerned that doesn't warrant prosecution."
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