The British Humanist Association (BHA) today raised concerns about the highly discriminatory nature of the London Oratory School, a Roman Catholic state school in Fulham, London. The school’s admissions policy is more selective than any other school that the BHA is aware of, including giving points to applicant’s parents for ‘Service… in any Catholic parish’, including by ‘Assisting in the Liturgy: for example by reading, singing in the choir or playing an instrument, altar serving, flower arranging.’ As a consequence, only 6.36% of pupils at the school are eligible for free school meals. This compares with 47.6% and 49.5% of pupils at the two secondary schools without a religious character in the same post code.
In December last year, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) ruled that the school’s admissions policy was in breach of the School Admissions Code, which proscribes criteria which ‘give priority to children on the basis of any practical or financial support parents may give to the school or any associated organisation, including any religious authority’.
In order to meet this ruling the revised admissions policy removed a criterion giving parents priority for cleaning the Church. However, it left in place a criterion giving priority to those who do flower arranging. School headmaster David McFadden told the BHA that the school met with the OSA, who apparently confirmed that they were happy with the limited scope of these changes.
The BHA intends to complain about this to the OSA, along with other concerns, such as the fact that the criteria, as currently drafted, do not practically allow for the possibility of children of non-religious parents being admitted to the school (see note ).
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘It cannot possibly be right that a parent can get preferential treatment in getting their child into a state school through flower arranging.
‘The school’s admissions policy favours parents in a strict order: firstly nine categories of Catholic, then Anglicans, then other Christians, then those of other faiths. As the school’s admissions policy is drafted, it is not currently possible for the non-religious to gain admittance at the school and the barriers to social cohesion that such uniformity represents are shocking in a publicly funded school.
‘Instead of looking to select so many different categories of Catholic and causing socio-economic selection in the process, any school should seek to be inclusive of its whole community, with no regard to religion or to social standing. It is only by rewriting its admissions policy that the school can hope to have a positive effect on community cohesion.’
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072.
The Schools Adjudicator’s ruling
Prior to the OSA’s ruling, the school’s admissions policy gave priority for (note ):
Service by the Candidate or Catholic parent in any Catholic parish or in the wider Catholic Church in each of the last three years. Examples of service include:
Involvement in parish activities:
(a) Assisting in the Liturgy: for example by reading, singing in the choir or playing
an instrument, altar serving, cleaning, flower arranging.
(c) Assisting in parish administration: for example housekeeping and maintenance of
Points allocated for service are:
Service over the three years 2
Service of less than three years 1
No service 0
However, the Schools Adjudicator ruled that:
15. The School’s website states clearly “The school is part of the Catholic Church.” I am clear that a Catholic parish is an associated organisation for the purpose of this provision of the Code. The School’s oversubscription criteria take into account “service in any Catholic Parish or in the wider Catholic Church by the candidate or a Catholic parent.” A footnote to the arrangements expands on this criterion by giving examples of the sort of service which would qualify. These include assisting in the liturgy, assisting in pastoral work and assisting with housekeeping or the maintenance of church property.
16. I respect the School’s reasons for seeking to include such a criterion, but, as currently drafted, this criterion is clearly not compliant with the Code and must be removed.
Read the school’s old admissions policy: http://web.archive.org/web/20120806170458/http:/www.london-oratory.org/tlos/htdocs/content.asp?cat=8&sub=105&sec=106
Read the school’s revised admissions policy: http://www.london-oratory.org/tlos/htdocs/documents/admissions_arrangements_2014.pdf
Read the School Admissions Code: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/adminandfinance/schooladmissions/a00195/codes-regs
Read today’s TES article, ‘Saying it with flowers still opens faith school’s doors’: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6327532
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools
View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf
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.