London Oratory: Two months to revise admissions arrangements on religious selection

Flagship Catholic academy The London Oratory School has two months to revise its admission arrangements following a decision by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA).

But the school has said it believes the OSA is “just not fit for purpose” and that the school governors “once again reserve the right to refer this determination to due legal process”.

In a judgment today,  the OSA found that aspects of the school’s religious selection criteria are in breach of the Schools Admissions Code.

The Code required all faith-based admissions criteria to adhere to the relevant guidance issued by the local diocese.

The OSA said that seeking information about the frequency of applicants’ and candidates’ attendance at Mass is “permissible and in fact has regard to the wording of the guidance”.

But it said the request by the school for information about a candidate’s time of baptism was “neither proper nor legitimate”.  It added that the request for information about a candidate’s First Holy Communion “similarly goes beyond what the guidance permits in respect of seeking information about the Church’s sacraments and in making judgments about the Catholicity of applicant families”.

According to the OSA judgment, the oversubscription criterion that requires candidates to have had a Catholic education, in or out of school, “is not an activity ‘laid down’ in the diocesan guidance for the purposed of admission arrangements.”

It continued: “The school does not have a proper or legitimate reason for disregarding the guidance in this respect.”

The judgment said it was for the school to “inculcate its mission and ethos amongst its pupils after they had been admitted to it, not to make arbitrary demands of candidates and their families in relation to these values before they become members of the school”.

It said the school  – an academy for pupils aged 7 to 18 in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham – was also not compliant with the requirement of the School Admissions Code regarding the naming of feeder schools.

Headteacher of  the London Oratory School David McFadden said in response to the judgment: “This is the fifth different adjudicator appointed and the third different determination on an admissions policy that is now two years old and no longer in use. What have we learnt?

“That it is profoundly regrettable that the school – and other schools – have to expend precious resources, year after year, in standing up to the OSA. These are key resources that should go to our children’s education and their future, not repeatedly overturning ultimately flawed and unmeritorious decisions. Schools within the state sector have serious questions to ask about the adjudication process as I believe the OSA is just not fit for purpose. The school governors once again reserve the right to refer this determination to due legal process.”

The British Humanist Association (BHA) first complained to the OSA about the school’s admissions policy in May 2013 and is an interested party in the ongoing legal proceedings.

Welcoming the determination, BHA campaigns manager Richy Thompson said: “What this decision effectively means is that the London Oratory’s faith-based admissions criteria are too exclusive even by the standards of the Westminster Diocese, and we applaud the OSA for standing by its original decision.

“We of course will continue to campaign against the use of religious selection of any kind, but the very clear limits that this determination places on the Oratory’s ability to religiously select sends an important message that schools should strive to be as inclusive as possible when setting their admissions policy.”

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