London Oratory School challenges Schools Adjudicator’s decision that it must rewrite its admissions policy

5 November, 2013

The London Oratory School, a state Catholic boys’ secondary school in Fulham, is challenging a decision made by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) that its admissions arrangements break the School Admissions Code, which all schools are legally required to follow. The OSA ruled in August that the School breaks the Code in ten separate places, including a ‘Catholic service criterion’ that gives priority to parents who practically support the Catholic Church (for example by doing flower arranging), following a complaint by the British Humanist Association (BHA): it is this specific part of the ruling that the School is seeking to overturn. The BHA has expressed concern that the body responsible for enforcing the ruling is not the OSA but the Department for Education (DfE).

After 28 August’s decision London Oratory revised its admissions arrangements but did not remove the ‘Catholic service criterion’: it also revised website to state that ‘On 28th August after a challenge by The Humanist Society supported by the Diocese of Westminster, the Adjudicator decided that the Catholic service oversubscription criterion should be removed. The School… is considering whether it has grounds for a legal challenge and if not, precisely what steps it should take to comply with the Adjudicator’s decision. However, unless notified to the contrary parents should assume that the Catholic service criterion will not be applied to candidates for admission in 2014.’

Following on from this, on 27 September the School sent a pre-action letter proposing a judicial review to the OSA, copying in the BHA as an interested party. This sought to challenge the ‘Catholic service criterion’ portion of the ruling specifically, and proposed that the case should be completed by the deadline for parents applying for secondary school places, i.e. 31 October. Subsequent to the 27th the School further revised its website to say that ‘Applicants are advised that the school’s admission arrangements for 2014 will be as published’, i.e. the ‘Catholic service criterion’ would be followed.

In its letter in response to this the BHA argued that the School has failed to implement the OSA’s ruling in three other areas it is not challenging, for example in refusing to admit the non-religious if not sufficiently oversubscribed and in giving priority to parents whose children attend feeder schools that are not named.

Now the School has agreed to go into discussions about the decision with its enforcement body, which is not the OSA but the DfE.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We are deeply concerned that this decision might be overturned. London Oratory School is in the ten most socio-economically selective secondaries in the country, and the criterion requiring years of service to the Catholic Church is surely the main reason. It cannot be right that parents are required to engage in activities such as flower arranging to get their children into a state funded school and we hope that the sound decision that it is wrong is upheld.

‘In addition, without wishing to prejudge the outcome of the process, it seems wholly inappropriate to us that a decision taken on a school’s admissions arrangements by objective experts now falls to the Department for Education, a political body, to enforce.’


For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072.

Read August’s ruling against the school:

Read the BHA’s comments and summary of the ruling:

Read the school’s admissions arrangements prior to the ruling:
and their revised arrangements:

Read the BHA’s response to the pre-action letter:

This is the fourth dispute in the last decade that the London Oratory School has been involved with over its admissions arrangements, and third in the last three years. In 2004 the School was ordered by the OSA to stop interviewing applicants, a decision it judicially reviewed and won. Subsequently in 2006 the School Admissions Code was tightened to ban this practice. As well as the August 2013 decision the School has also been subject to OSA rulings against it in 2010 and 2012.

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools:

View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character:

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.