The London Oratory School has gone to the High Court to defend its admissions policy – which weighs up parental involvement in their local church – against a strongly critical report by the Schools Adjudicator (OSA).
It has changed its 2015 admissions policy to reflect the OSA’s judgement, but has asked the High Court in London for clarification on whether the changes it has been forced to make for 2016 are actually lawful.
The Schools Adjudicator last year backed a complaint by the British Humanist Association and said the hugely popular and over-subscribed school to which Tony and Cherie Blair sent their children, is breaching the schools’ Admissions Code.
The school uses a grid system to score potential pupils against eight criteria, including whether parents spend at least three years on church duties such as singing in the choir, arranging flowers or doing voluntary work.
Last August 2014, the OSA ruled in favour of an objection by the British Humanist Association that the school’s policy breaches a section of the official admissions code intended to stop parents obtaining places by giving practical or financial support to schools or associated bodies such as churches and asks to see parents’ baptismal certificates.
It says it is necessary to preserve the school’s Catholic ethos.
But the adjudicator said the school’s “service” criterion requiring three years’ service by an applicant or their family “will favour those parents who are good at planning ahead and who are sufficiently well organised to identify the admission criteria, who ensure that they undertake the necessary activities and who keep sufficient records to be able to evidence that they have done this.”
The school has applied to the High Court in London for a ruling that the adjudicator, Dr Bryan Slater, far exceeded the concerns of the original complaint to make a “sustained ‘root and branch’” attack upon its admissions criteria for 2014 and 2015.
It asked the court to rule that Dr Slater made “basic errors of reasoning” in concluding that its admissions criteria discriminates against minority and less-well off children.
In many instances, said the school, it was clear Dr Slater“fundamentally misunderstood the school’s criteria”.
Charles Béar QC, who is representing the school, told Mr Justice Cobb: ” The school view is that altering the faith-based criteria will alter the composition of the intake and damage the school ethos.”
The school said that its that faith-based oversubscription criteria actually makes the school more diverse, because it results in students being recruited from a wider geographical spread.
It acknowledged that the school’s ethnic diversity was lower than that of neighbouring Catholic schools but said this was because of its particular religious tradition, its reputation for Latin teaching and traditional Church music.
The British Humanist Association Campaigns Manager said in a statement before the school’s application to the High Court started: “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 per cent of pupils eligible for school meals compared to 36 per cent locally. We hope the High Court will uphold the adjudicator’s decision.”