London Oratory’s faith-based admission criteria ‘unacceptable’ and in breach of School Admissions Code

In a determination issued today, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) has again found that aspects of the London Oratory School’s religious selection criteria are in breach of the School Admissions Code. The new decision, which follows on from a High Court judgement handed down in April and relates to an illegitimate departure from diocesan guidance on school admissions, means that the changes to the school’s policy ordered by the Adjudicator last year will stand. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which was responsible for making the initial complaint in 2013 and is an interested party in the ongoing legal proceedings, has welcomed the judgement.

The School Admissions Code requires all faith-based admissions criteria to adhere to the relevant guidance issued by the local diocese, and it was on this point that the Adjudicator was instructed to make a fresh determination by the High Court. The OSA had previously ruled against the Oratory’s policy of ranking candidates based on the age at which they were baptised, as well as the stipulation that all applicants must have previously had a Catholic education, both of which are practices not sanctioned by Westminster Diocese. In upholding its original decision on these criteria, the OSA described the departure from the guidance as ‘neither proper nor legitimate’ and again stated that the admissions arrangements were ‘not compliant with the requirements of the Code’ in this respect.

The Oratory, who after the initial determination was required to rewrite its admissions policy pending an appeal, will now not be able to return to their previous arrangements. The decision also means that the school will now no longer be able to prioritise children baptised within six months of birth over those baptised when they were older, and selection based on whether or not a child has received first Holy Communion is also now prohibited. The Adjudicator has given the school two months to amend their policy.

Commenting on 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.’

Notes

For further comment please contact BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman at jay@humanism.org.uk or on 07970393680.

Read the OSA’s full determination here: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/ADA2852-The-London-Oratory-School-LBHF-19-June-2015.doc

The admissions criteria being examined by the OSA included: baptismal status, attendance at Mass and Holy Days of Obligation, whether or not the candidate has received first Holy Communion and the nature of the child’s Catholic education prior to application.

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 into account the religious practice of both parents instead of just one, and of taking account of religious activities not permitted by the school’s Diocese. It was on this last issue that the latest OSA determination centered, after the judge stated that a full resolution could not be reached until after further submissions had been sought.

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 the BHA’s previous comment on the case: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/04/20/london-oratory-vs-office-of-the-schools-adjudicator-high-court-judgment-leaves-vast-majority-of-adjudicators-findings-upheld/

Read Mr Justice Cobb’s judgment from April 2015: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/oratory_school-170415-final-2.pdf

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/

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.