Schools Adjudicator London Oratory rulings largely upheld

April 24, 2015

Last Friday (April 17th) the High Court issued its judgment on a legal challenge made by The London Oratory against a damming determination made about its admission policy last year by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA). The OSA’s determination had found 105 breaches of the statutory School Admissions Code. The court found almost all of these conclusions to be lawful or otherwise not susceptible to challenge, but took issue with the OSA’s findings in small number of areas.

This high profile case is part of a long running battle between the school – one of the most socially exclusive in the county – and the OSA, which is the state funded tribunal service tasked with enforcing the Admissions Code. The challenge is also set to continue after the judge ruled for a further determination to be made in regards to whether the school’s approach properly adhered to guidance from its Diocese. Depending on the outcome, this could have significant implications in terms of practice at other religiously selective faith schools.

Parts of the determination that that the court found against included the OSA’s high profile finding that the school had operated a policy which was unfairly disadvantageous to children from less well-off families. Although the judge thought there was ‘probably’ some social selection taking place, the court did not focus on this matter, but on the reasoning with which the OSA used to come to its opinion, which the judge ruled as procedurally unfair, so annulled the finding.

The court ruled that the OSA was mistaken in ruling out the school asking parents for baptismal certificates and in its conclusion that the school had not made meaningful attempts to consult on its arrangements with necessary parties. In two more curious findings, the judge inferred that it was not unfair (under the Code) for the school to require both of a child’s parents to be religiously observant and to ask what schools applicants had previously attended.

Chair the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘The court upheld the vast majority of breaches that the OSA declared, and even concluded there was probably socio-economic selection of school candidates taking place. However, it has left an important question hanging over the level of autonomy faith schools have to religiously select if a method has not been permitted by their religious authority. Overall, these issues highlight the added bureaucracy and complexities that arise from a system that allows schools to select children by faith, and offer yet further reasons as to why this system should be brought to an end.’

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