The Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) applied too stringent a test when it concluded that the London Oratory School failed to follow diocesan guidance when setting its faith-based oversubscription criteria, according to the High Court.
The judgment handed down today followed the school’s move to request a judicial review of an OSA decision finding that it had been selecting pupils on ethnic and socio-economic grounds in its admissions policy.
According to the judge, the adjudicator’s conclusion that the governing body of the school had operated an admissions system that was socially selective, discriminatory, and unfairly disadvantageous to children from “less well off” families was flawed.
He said it was also reached in a way that was procedurally unfair to the school. The honourable Mr Justice Cobb said the adjudicator’s conclusion that the admissions forms published by the school for 2015 were unclear in in failing to identify what was meant by a “parent” was unreasonable, “failing to acknowledge (or even refer to) the relevant ‘definition’ section which appears prominently in the notes to support the admissions process”.
He said it was permissible for the school to request parents’ baptismal certificates as proof of their Catholic faith and that such a request does not offend against the Department for Education’s School Admissions Code.
The school included an over-subscription criterion seeking evidence of previous Catholic education in 2014, and in 2015 for Year 3 candidates only. The judge concluded it was permissible – subject to there being clear and proper reason for departing from the diocesan guidance to which the School was obliged to have regard – for it to do this.
He said the adjudicator acted unlawfully in concluding that the school had breached the admissions code by including this criterion. While he disagreed with the school’s interpretation of regulation 16 of the Schools Admissions Code in relation to consultation on its admissions process, he said the adjudicator was wrong to conclude the school could show no evidence that it had failed to make any meaningful attempt to bring the school’s proposed arrangements to the attention of the required consultees.
In all other respects, he concluded the adjudicator reached conclusions which were lawful, or not otherwise susceptible to challenge.
The British Humanist Association was the objector in the case that prompted the OSA decision and has been involved in the legal challenge. BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson said: “The Oratory still stands as having been found guilty of 99 breaches of the School Admissions Code. The evidence is clear, the school’s intake has consistently been found to be socio-economically skewed and Mr Justice Cobb did not refute the adjudicator’s contention that a degree of social selection of school candidates was ‘inherent’ in the admissions criteria.”
The school’s solicitor Ane Vernon said: ” This allegation, which made headline news, that the school was socially selective and discriminating against less well off families has been hurtful to staff, pupils and parents.
“This damaging allegation has been found by the judge to be wrong and unfair and the finding vindicates the robust approach the school has had to take against the OSA.”