London Oratory School in High Court challenge to Schools Adjudicator’s ruling on discriminatory admissions policy

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the High Court will hear whether one of the country’s leading state secondary schools has been selecting its pupils on ethnic and socio-economic grounds in its admissions policy, the British Humanist Association (BHA) can reveal. After what is believed to be the only time a school has been found by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) to discriminate on both these grounds, the London Oratory School in west London was ordered to rewrite its admissions criteria by the OSA last summer, a decision which it has chosen to judicially review. The BHA was the objector in the case that prompted the decision, and is involved in the ongoing legal challenge.

In a damning report of the London Oratory’s admissions policy, the admissions tribunal found a total of 105 breaches of the School Admissions Code, which all state schools are obliged to follow. The breaches included: giving priority to pupils whose parents take part in church activities such as flower arranging and choir singing; going against diocesan guidance on admissions; taking into account the religious practice of both parents instead of just one; and failing to allow for the admittance of pupils with non-religious parents, even if the school is not oversubscribed.

The school applied for a judicial review of the decision in October last year. This week’s court date comes nearly two years after the BHA submitted the original complaint to the adjudicator in May 2013.

Ahead of the hearing, BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson commented, ‘The degree to which the London Oratory’s admissions criteria have both ethnically and socio-economically skewed its intake is appalling, and the Schools Adjudicator was right to find against it. It is amongst the ten most socio-economically selective state secondary schools in the country, taking just 6% of pupils eligible for school meals compared to 36% locally. We hope the High Court will uphold the adjudicator’s decision.’

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

The case will be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice tomorrow and on Wednesday, in the Administrative Court of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court.

The BHA first complained about the school’s admissions policy in May 2013. In August 2013 the OSA issued a decision upholding the complaint and ruling against the school, but the school threatened to judicially review this, and in November the OSA found an inconsequential error in its report, leading to the decision being quashed. The new determination made in July 2014, which also looked at the school’s latest policy, again found against the school, and on a much more comprehensive basis than before.

However, in October the School applied to judicially review the decision on nine grounds, including the findings of socio-economic discrimination, of taking account of religious activities not permitted by the school’s Diocese, and of taking into account the religious practice of both parents instead of just one.

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 BHA’s previous comment, ‘Landmark ruling: Schools Adjudicator finds London Oratory School admissions policy to be both racially and socio-economically discriminatory’, 15 July 2014: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/07/15/landmark-ruling-schools-adjudicator-finds-london-oratory-school-admissions-policy-racially-socio-economically-discriminatory/

Read the OSA’s decision from July 2014: 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

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.