“Blessed are the pew polishers for they shall get a place at the London Oratory”
Local Schools Network, 31 December 2012
In December 2012 the Schools Adjudicator ruled against the London Oratory School because it had, among other things, prioritised the children of parents who had done church housekeeping.
The Oratory responded by removing the housekeeping criterion but retained other activities such as flower arranging. The school said these had religious significance. But the Schools Admissions Code forbids schools giving preference to children of parents who give “practical support” to a school or connected religious authority.
The Schools Adjudicator agreed (28 August 2013*) that duties such as singing in the choir may have a religious significance. Neverthtless, they were still practical support. Giving priority to children of parents who did such activities discriminated against Catholics who preferred to show religious commitment in other ways, the Adjudicator said.
The ruling also censured the Oratory for, among other things, not making it clear non-Catholics could attend the school and for giving priority to children who attended any Catholic primary school.
The Oratory has agreed to amend its admissions criteria but they will not be changed for 2014/15 because time is short before the prospective parents’ evening in September. The amended criteria will come into force for 2015/16.
This raises the question about what happens if the 2015/16 amended criteria still fall short of the requirements of the Code. The Oratory had been told to amend its forthcoming criteria in December 2012 – that is, the criteria which would apply for the academic year 2014/15. But these amended criteria still didn’t adhere to the Code.
The Schools Adjudicator is not a proactive body. It doesn’t seek out schools which break the Admissions Code but waits for an objection to be submitted. However, in cases such as the London Oratory where the Adjudicator has ruled against a school’s admission arrangements, there is a case for the Adjudicator to be given the power to ask to see amended criteria before they are published. The Adjudicator could then throw out any that didn’t adhere to the Code. This would prevent schools from continuing to publish admission criteria which do not meet the Code.
*At the time of writing the decision had not been published on the website of the Schools Adjudicator. It can be downloaded here
on the website of the British Humanist Association.