Mixed picture on latest Schools Adjudicator rulings

August 31, 2013

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA), the government funded body which rules on objections to admission arrangements at state funded schools, has issued several judgements in the last week regarding complaints made by various groups opposed to religious discrimination in school admissions. The cases serve to highlight just some of the practical difficulties of having religiously selective schools in the state funded school system.

The OSA yesterday rejected a complaint made by the Tudor Grange Admissions Policy campaign regarding the admission arrangements of the Tudor Grange Academy in Solihull. The local campaign is affiliated to the Fair Admissions Campaign, which Accord co-launched in June. It complained that Tudor Grange, a secondary school, had made a religiously selective primary school that it sponsors (Tudor Primary Academy, St James) a feeder school, despite there being other non-religiously selective primary schools closer by.

However, the Adjudicator ruled that the feeder arrangement was proportionate and did not amount to indirect religious discrimination because of the school’s sponsorship agreement. Since the Tudor Grange Admissions Policy campaign submitted its complaint the  Tudor Primary Academy, St James has determined to drop its own religiously selective criteria.

In contrast the OSA has upheld a complaint made by the Fair Admissions Campaign co-founding and supporter group, the British Humanist Association (BHA) about the London Oratory School, an exclusive Catholic secondary school in Fulham. The BHA had alleged that the school prioritised parents who would practically support the Catholic Church (such as by doing flower arranging) in a manner not permitted by the school’s Diocese, and that it did not appear to allow for the admittance of pupils from families with no religion when not oversubscribed.

The OSA upheld all the main points of the BHA’s complaint and determined that the school’s admissions criteria were unfair and not easily understood in a number of other ways, including by asking to see prospective pupils predicted GCSE results. The Schools Adjudicator has now ordered the London Oratory to comprehensively rewrite its admissions criteria after they identified ten separate breaches of the School Admissions Code.

Last week the OSA also ruled on the admission arrangements of Kentish Town Church of England Primary School in the London Borough of Camden. Accord lent its support to one of the complainants and attended a meeting convened by the Adjudicator last month.

The Adjudicator rejected the complaint that the prevalence of the school’s religiously selective criteria was disproportionate – Camden has one of the smallest proportions of Christians of any local authority area in England and Wales. However they ruled that the consultation about the school’s admission arrangements broke the Admissions Code and that the five places the school has set aside to local children regardless of religion needed to be apportioned more clearly.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said ‘Not only does religious discrimination by faith schools sit at odds with widely held understandings of fairness in society, but these cases also highlight just some of the complications that having religiously selective schools in the state funded school system presents.

‘Religious selection in school admissions should not be part of our future – its segregates, serves to undermine community cohesion and besmirches faith school’s reputation. The growing number of faith schools that choosing to turn away from selecting by faith should be praised.’

 

Notes

A November 2012 ComRes poll commissioned by the Accord Coalition found that 73% of respondents agreed that ‘state funded schools, including state funded faith schools, should not be allowed to select or discriminate against prospective pupils on religious grounds in their admissions policy’, half (50%) stated that they agreed “strongly”. Only 18% of respondents disagreed. ComRes interviewed 2,008 adults online between 2nd and 4th November 2012: http://accordcoalition.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Databank-of-Independent-Evidence-on-Faith-Schools-Jan-2013.pdf.

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