Landmark ruling: Schools Adjudicator finds London Oratory School admissions policy to be both racially and socio-economically discriminatory

In a decision issued this afternoon, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) has found the 2014 and 2015 admissions policies of the London Oratory School to be discriminatory on the basis of ethnicity and socio-economic background – believed to be the first time a school has been found to discriminate on both of these grounds. The wide-ranging, comprehensive decision has identified an unprecedented total of 105 areas of the school’s policy breaking the School Admissions Code (63 with respect to the 2014 policy and 42 with respect to the 2015 policy). The school was also found:

  • to be taking account of religious activities other than those permitted by its diocese,
  • to be requiring parents to practically support the Catholic Church,
  • to not have had sufficient regard to the diocesan guidance, and
  • to not be allowing children of non-religious parents to gain admission (if not oversubscribed with children of religious parents).

It has been told to stop giving priority to parents on the basis of activities such as flower-arranging and to look again at the stringency of its arrangements with respect to baptism, worship, Holy Communion and requiring Catholic primary education. The British Humanist Association (BHA), the objector in the case, has welcomed the decision.

On ethnicity and socio-economic factors, the adjudicator compared the school to the 12 Catholic secondaries in neighbouring boroughs and found its intake to be less diverse. On ethnicity the adjudicator found the school to be taking disproportionately many white pupils, concluding, ‘I do not believe that the school can claim that its ethnic composition is even representative of that of the Catholic children attending schools in the part of London in which it is located. It seems to me instead that the diversity within the school is the lowest, or very nearly the lowest, of that found in all 13 schools.’

On socio-economic selection, the adjudicator concluded that ‘the data tend to support the existence of some level of social selection within the Catholic population, at least by some schools, including The London Oratory School… From the evidence which I have seen there is good reason to believe that the admission arrangements which the school uses have the effect of acting to produce at the very least a degree of social selection.’ The adjudicator concluded that ‘the arrangements unfairly disadvantage Catholic families who are less well off, in contravention of paragraph 1.8 of the Code.’ Paragraph 1.8 says ‘Admission authorities must ensure that their arrangements will not disadvantage unfairly, either directly or indirectly, a child from a particular social or racial group’.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We welcome today’s wide-ranging decision by the schools adjudicator which is the most comprehensive we have ever seen. The London Oratory School is one of the ten most socio-economically selective state secondary schools in England. 6% of pupils at the school are eligible for free school meals, compared with over a third locally. It is vital that no school discriminates against any pupil on the basis of religion, ethnicity or social standing and we are glad that the school must now rewrite its admissions policy to lessen the degree of discrimination on all fronts.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072.

The BHA complained about the school’s 2014 policy in April last year. In August the OSA issued a decision against the school, but the school threatened to judicially review this, and in January the OSA found an inconsequential error in it, deciding that it had to be quashed and redone. Today’s new decision, which also looked at the school’s 2015 policy, has again found against the school, and on a much more comprehensive basis than before.

Since first submitting this complaint, the BHA has helped found the Fair Admissions Campaign. ‘The Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.’ http://fairadmissions.org.uk/

Read the OSA’s decision: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/ADA-2410-The-London-Oratory-School-LBHF-15-July-2014.doc

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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