London Oratory: Top state school breaking law over discrimination against non-Catholics

Past pupils include sons of Tony Blair, Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman

The reputation of the London Oratory, one of the country’s best state schools, has been seriously damaged in a damning report by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA).

It concludes that the Catholic boys’ school, whose past pupils include the sons of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, and deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman, is breaking the law in an unfair admissions policy.

The decision, published by the OSA today, found the 2014 and 2015 admissions policies of the London Oratory School to discriminate against non-Catholics, with numerous areas of the school’s policy in breach of the School Admission Code.

These include “not allowing for the admission of children of no faith” as well as “using admission arrangements which disadvantage unfairly children from a particular social group.” Referring to the “service” to the Catholic Church, whether flower arranging or choir singing, that can help parents get their children a place at the school, the breaches also include “the prioritisation of applications on the basis of practical or financial help to an associated organisation.”

Dr Bryan Slater, the adjudicator, compared the school to Catholic schools in neighbouring boroughs and commented: “I do not believe that the school can claim that its ethnic composition is even representative of that of the Catholic children attending schools in the part of London in which it is located. It seems to me instead that the diversity within the school is the lowest, or very nearly the lowest, of that found in all 13 schools.”

And he said: “The data tend to support the existence of some level of social selection within the Catholic population, at least by some schools, including The London Oratory School… From the evidence which I have seen there is good reason to believe that the admission arrangements which the school uses have the effect of acting to produce at the very least a degree of social selection.”

His report added: “The arrangements unfairly disadvantage Catholic families who are less well off, in contravention of paragraph 1.8 of the Code.’ Paragraph 1.8 says ‘Admission authorities must ensure that their arrangements will not disadvantage unfairly, either directly or indirectly, a child from a particular social or racial group.”

The London Oratory School will now have to change its admissions policy, to stop giving priority to parents on the basis of how much they do for the Catholic Church and to look again at the stringency of its admissions criteria with respect to baptism, worship, Holy Communion and requiring Catholic primary education. The decision is binding and the report concludes: “The School Admissions Code requires the admission authority to revise its admission arrangements as quickly as possible.”

The OSA’s investigation into the way in which the London Oratory School decides who to give a place to was prompted by a complaint made by the British Humanist Association last April.

Welcoming the findings, Richy Thompson, BHA’s faith schools campaigner, said: “We welcome today’s wide-ranging decision by the schools adjudicator which is the most comprehensive we have ever seen. The London Oratory School is one of the ten most socio-economically selective state secondary schools in England. Six per cent of pupils at the school are eligible for free school meals, compared with over a third locally.” He added: “It is vital that no school discriminates against any pupil on the basis of religion, ethnicity or social standing and we are glad that the school must now rewrite its admissions policy to lessen the degree of discrimination on all fronts.”

The Roman Catholic boys' comprehensive in Fulham, west London, judged “outstanding” by Ofsted, admits 160 boys to its senior school each year, with priority given to practising Catholics. According to its website, the school, which became an academy in 2011, aims to “assist Catholic parents in fulfilling their obligation to educate their children in accordance with the principles and teachings of the Church.”

The headmaster, David McFadden, said on Tuesday night: “The Office of the Schools Adjudicator has made four determinations against this School in the past six years, the most recent of which was again challenged successfully. Today the Adjudicator’s Office has now, it seems, suddenly found a further 105 aspects of our admission arrangements which apparently breach the School Admission Code. The School Governors once again reserve the right to refer this determination to Judicial Review.”

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