Court overrules adjudicator’s decision about admissions, says Oratory, but decision against 'Catholic Service' still stands.

Janet Downs's picture
‘I am pleased to announce that we have been successful with the Judicial Review quashing the ruling made by the adjudicator.’

Announcement, London Oratory School, 17 April 2015

In a High Court ruling, Mr Justice Cobb overturned the finding of the School Adjudicator that London Oratory School, an over-subscribed Catholic school, had ‘operated an admissions system which was socially selective, discriminatory, and unfairly disadvantageous to children from “less well-off” families’. He ruled the Adjudicator had ‘reached this conclusion by a mix of flawed reasoning and unfair process’.

The Judge also ruled it was permissible for the school to ask parents to show their own baptismal certificates to prove they were Catholics.

The case arose because the Oratory objected to a July 2014 decision by the Adjudicator following a complaint to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) by the British Humanist Association (BHA). It is OSA’s responsibility to decide if a school’s admission criteria adhere to the Schools Admission Code*. The Judge ruled the Adjudicator had acted conscientiously but went beyond his remit in ‘specific respects’ in a way that was ‘unlawful and/or unreasonable’.

Was this, then, a vindication of the London Oratory School as its press release claims?


The answer is not entirely. There were matters beyond the ‘specific respects’. And the Judge ruled these other OSA decisions were ‘lawful’.

In other words, there were instances where the Judge upheld the Adjudicator’s findings. This is not made clear in the Oratory’s press release. It refers to ‘key issues’ where the Judge found in favour of the school but not those where the Judge found against.

These included:

1Catholic Service. The Judge agreed ‘it is not permissible to include “Catholic Service” as one of the faith-based oversubscription criteria.’ This means ‘flower arranging’ and other such services unconnected to religious observance could not be included.

2Statement for medical and social need. The Adjudicator had concluded the school was unclear about what evidence was needed to support a claim of ‘medical and social need’. Neither did it define what these needs were. The Judge upheld the Adjudicator’s conclusion.

3Request for signatures of both parents on the supplementary information form (SIF). The Adjudicator’s ‘critique’ of school’s 2015 SIF verged ‘on the pedantic’, the Judge said. Nevertheless he agreed it didn’t adhere to the Admission Code.

The Judge also said there needed to be ‘further determination’ about the Oratory’s apparent disregard of advice given by the Archdiocese of Westminster. He said he would request ‘further submissions’ before making a ruling.

The affair had dragged on too long, the Judge said, and was a ‘challenge’ to the school. But it should be remembered the ‘Catholic Service’ requirement had been overruled by OSA in late 2012 when the Adjudicator had also noted the Oratory didn’t adhere to guidelines from its Diocese. The Judge did not refer to this earlier judgement. If the school had accepted the 2012 adjudication in full it would not have been necessary for the BHA to complain to OSA. The Oratory in turn would have avoided a lengthy and costly legal challenge which has, the school admitted, diverted time and money away from educating its pupils.

*The Schools Admission Code used in this case was the one in operation at the time: the Code of 2012. It was revised in 2014.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


David Barry's picture
Sat, 18/04/2015 - 14:55

That the Oratory are prepared to put such a positive "spin" on this news tells you a bit about the ethos....

While on the subject of Church Schools here is an interesting, and I think, relevant read.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 19/04/2015 - 09:10

David - The reporting of this case is skewed towards the school winning and downplays, or doesn’t mention, the Judge upheld some of the adjudicator’s decisions.

BBC headline: London Oratory School wins admissions policy court case . Halfway down the BBC admitted the Judge had upheld the adjudicator’s decision about Catholic service.

The Mail headline: Top school cleared of discriminating against poor and non-Catholic children when selecting pupils

It said the adjudicator had ruled the school mustn’t grant places on ‘basis of any practical or financial support’ but didn’t say the Judge had upheld this. Instead it gave the impression the whole adjudication had been thrown out.

The Telegraph headline: Blair's church school cleared over claims of social selection.

The second paragraph made it clear the Judge said the school shouldn’t favour parents who ‘sing in the choir or take up flower arranging’.

TES headline: London Oratory School wins legal challenge over 'selective' admissions accusation

It was only in the last paragraph that TES, in a BHA quote, said the school still broke some admission code rules

The Catholic Herald headline: High Court overturns ruling by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator No mention that the Judge upheld some of OSA’s findings.

A Press Association headline School wins selection claims action was above an accurate article (reproduced on Mail Online) which said the Judge ‘rejected the school's challenge against the adjudicator's conclusion that it was not permissible to include "Catholic service" as one of its faith-based over-subscription criteria.’

The Guardian’s headline was accurate: London Oratory school wins partial victory in admissions ruling

Andy V's picture
Sun, 19/04/2015 - 12:27

And the closing sentence is telling, "Some faith and non-faith schools will then, as now, be unable to resist the temptation to select for their own advantage." So contributors should be prepared to highlight incidences where either faith and non-faith schools 'game' the system.

Perhaps it would be worth revisiting the old catchment approach with a view to:

1. Ensuring rigour (e.g. catchment location overrides faith criterion and thus if the area doesn't have sufficient faith based applicants the vacancies are offered to non-faith families)
2. Government making appropriate and necessary funding and staffing arrangements for schools serving deprived catchments

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 20/04/2015 - 07:57

Andy - as an academy, the Oratory could prioritize pupils attracting the Pupil Premium. I wonder if it will do so?

Barry Wise's picture
Mon, 20/04/2015 - 08:55

I'm not surprised the school has claimed this as a great victory. The judge's criticisms of the Adjudicator are remarkably stinging. His approach was branded "unlawful" and "unreasonable". The judge said he used "flawed reasoning" and "unfair process". Strong words. So strong that there must surely be doubts whether the individual should remain an adjudicator. That said, Janet is right that the judge did uphold part of the decision.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 20/04/2015 - 11:53

Barry - the Judge said the adjudicator 'endeavoured to fulfil his responsibilities conscientiously for the long-term benefit of the School, the candidates and their parents' (R v OSA, 17 April 2015, para 128), so it might be premature to seek his dismissal.

The 'unlawful', 'unreasonable', 'flawed reasoning' and 'unfair process' related to the adjudicator's decision that the school was discriminating via its admission criteria against poor Catholic families. This included the adjudicator conducting his own research into the FSM eligibility and ethnicity at the Oratory mainly using DfE data. These were not shared with the school (R v OSA, 17 April 2015, paras 73, 74, 78 and others).

The description of 'unlawful' etc did not refer to the whole of OSA's adjudication. In fact, the key issue, the unlawfulness of awarding points for services such as flower arranging, being an altar boy etc was upheld by the Judge.

This key ruling was made in an earlier adjudication in 2012 as I said. If the Oratory hadn't tried to get round this by dropping references to church housekeeping but keeping in reference to flower arranging, then there would have been no need for an objection in 2014 and the Oratory would not have had to go through an expensive and lengthy legal process.

The Oratory's admission arrangements for Year 7 2016/17 have no reference to service to the church over-and-above that expected by Canon Law. Some might say, 'About time'.

As it is, the judgement is not yet over. Lord Justice Cobb is seeking further submissions about the Oratory's apparent disregard to Diocesan advice. As he said (para 129):

'I fear that my conclusions do not necessarily signal the end of this lengthy process of investigation, which has already been on-going for far too long.'

The responsibility for this is squarely with the school for not adhering to the 2012 OSA judgement.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.