Catholic Education Service climbs down in bid to reinstate its ‘unfair and arbitrary’ school admissions rules

The Catholic Education Service (CES) has climbed down on its bid to overturn a decision by the school admissions tribunal, which found that the religious selection test used by Catholic schools is ‘unfair and arbitrary’. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), which along with Humanists UK was responsible in 2015 for revealing that virtually every religiously selective school in England has been breaking the law, welcomed the news.

In November last year the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) ruled that the admission arrangements of a number of Catholic schools in England are unlawful due to their use of the Certificate of Catholic Practice. The Certificate, which was introduced by the CES in 2016, is used to verify whether or not a pupil is from a practising Catholic family, and to subsequently give such pupils priority in admissions.

However, the certificate is not subject to any objective test, and simply requires the signature of a priest. The OSA judged this to be too arbitrary a test to comply with the School Admissions Code, which demands that all school admission arrangements be ‘reasonable, clear, objective, and procedurally fair’.

Following the OSA’s ruling, the CES together with the Diocese of Westminster were given permission to legally challenge the decision in the High Court. But after discussions with the OSA and the Department for Education, that challenge has now been dropped. This is as the CES has now clarified that, but for ‘exceptional circumstances’, a parent must have attended Mass on Sundays and holydays of obligations for at least five years in order to have their certificate approved by a priest. Despite five years being an extremely long time to have to be religiously practising to gain entry to a school, the OSA has indicated that use of the certificate is now likely to be considered ‘acceptable’ under the School Admissions Code, as this clarification has introduced objectivity into the Certificate’s assessment process.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, a founding member of the Fair Admissions Campaign, commented, ‘The Adjudicator’s insistence on objectivity and fairness in the admissions system is admirable, and we’re glad that their ruling against the Catholic Education Service will be upheld.’

‘It remains the case, however, that religiously selective admission arrangements are unfair by their very nature, and cause a great deal of harm regardless of how objective they are. Schools that are paid for by everybody should be open to everybody, and any system in which children are discriminated against on the basis of their assumed religion is not fit for purpose. We will go on encouraging both the Government and individual schools to do away with religious selection altogether and opt for a fully inclusive approach instead.’  


For further comment or information please contact the Fair Admissions Campaign on or 0207 324 3078.

Read the Catholic Education Service’s clarification on the Certificate of Catholic Practice:

Read the OSA’s decisions on the admission arrangements of:

St Paul’s Catholic College, Surrey:

St Michael’s Catholic Primary Schools, Surrey:

Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary School, Surrey:

St Ignatius Catholic Primary School, Surrey:

St Richard Reynolds Catholic College, Richmond:

Read the FAC news item ‘An Unholy Mess: new report reveals “near-universal noncompliance” with School Admissions Code among religiously selective state schools in England:

Read the full report:    

The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the Humanists UK, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.