Schools Adjudicator: London Oratory School must overhaul admissions criteria

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator has today ordered the London Oratory School to comprehensively rewrite its admissions criteria after identifying ten separate breaches of the School Admissions Code. The determination follows on from a complaint made by the Fair Admissions Campaign founding and supporter group, the British Humanist Association (BHA), alleging that the school was prioritising parents who would practically support the Catholic Church (for example by doing flower arranging) in a manner not permitted by the school’s Diocese, and did not appear to allow for the admittance of pupils from families with no religion (if the school was not sufficiently oversubscribed).

As well as agreeing with all the main points of the BHA’s complaint, the adjudicator determined that the school’s admissions criteria were also unfair and not easily understood, and breach the Code in a number of other ways, including asking to see predicted GCSE results, asking to see birth certificates and giving priority to pupils attending Catholic primary schools without naming specific feeder schools.

Professor Ted Cantle CBE, who is Chair of the Fair Admissions Campaign supporting group the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) Foundation, said ‘I hope this is the first of many challenges which seek to remind church schools of their responsibilities to the wider community and especially the need to break down faith barriers and to promote social justice and integration.

‘Given the pre-eminence of the school we should have expected their compliance to be exemplary and that they would show leadership to the sector. Rather, they have obfuscated and tried to find ways around the code to protect a privileged minority. This is no way for a responsible school to behave and certainly not a church school which we would expect to uphold principles of fair play.’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair of the Fair Admissions Campaign supporting group the Accord Coalition, said ‘It is profoundly sad that the school has been found guilty of undermining the religious values to which it is supposed to subscribe. It is time for all faiths schools to abolish selection procedures based on religious discrimination and to have a much fairer and more inclusive system.’

BHA Education Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘This state-funded school is one of the most socio-economically selective in the country, taking in under 20% as many pupils requiring free school meals as live in the area in which it is based. The degree to which the school’s admissions criteria enabled social engineering to take place was grotesque and we are very pleased that these parts must now all be removed. We hope that the school will think carefully about how it can redraft its criteria in a way which does not select children from wealthy families but is inclusive of all, regardless of social standing.’

Full details of the ruling

Read the school’s admissions arrangements:
and supplementary information form:

Read the School Admissions Code, which all schools must follow:

Read the ruling:
and the BHA’s submissions to the case:

In total there were ten identified breaches of the school admissions code. The main areas of the ruling are:

  1. The school’s ‘Service in any Catholic Parish or in the wider Catholic Church’ criterion (criterion (4)/footnote [4]) requires parents for at least three years to have carried out activities including ‘Assisting in the Liturgy: for example by reading, singing in the choir or playing an instrument, altar serving, flower arranging.’ This was determined to constitute practical support to the Church (disallowed by paragraph 1.9e of the Admissions Code – paragraph 31 of the ruling), as well as being unfair (disallowed by paragraphs 14 and 1.8 of the Code – paragraph 36 of the ruling), and therefore has to be removed in its entirety.
  2. The school’s criteria (in particular footnote [1]) are not sufficiently clear that children whose families have no religion could be admitted if the school was not sufficiently oversubscribed (paragraph 2.8 of the Code, and 38 of the ruling). They seem to only allow for Catholics, then ‘members of the Church of England; members of other Christian denominations; members of non-Christian faiths’.

A more minor area was that the school had not properly updated its website with its latest admissions criteria (paragraph 39). In addition, the fourth and final area of the BHA’s complaint, namely that the school had had insufficient regard to the Diocese’s guidance, was not upheld (paragraph 39), but this is of no practical consequence as it would not have affected the areas of the oversubscription criteria that the school has to change for next year.

In addition, the schools adjudicator identified seven further breaches of the Code, some of which are quite major:

  1. The school’s admissions criteria are not easily understood, and need a major redrafting on this front (paragraph 14 of the Code and 42 of the ruling).
  2. The school gives priority to pupils attending Catholic primary schools, but does not name which Catholic primary schools specifically it means. Feeder schools have to be individually named (paragraph 1.9b of the Code and 43 of the ruling).
  3. The school asks for expected GCSE results of applicants to the sixth form, which is not allowed (paragraph 1.9g of the Code and 45 of the ruling).
  4. The school asks both parents to sign the supplementary information form, and to see birth certificates (disallowed by paragraphs 2.4 and 2.5 of the Code, paragraph 46 of the ruling).
  5. In two separate places, the school refers to boys/sons when it should also refer to girls/daughters (as girls can be admitted to the school in the sixth form) (paragraphs 44-45 of the ruling).

The London Oratory School was also found to be in breach of the Code in a ruling in December last year:

In its submissions to the OSA, the School argued that the BHA’s complaint was vexatious, saying that ‘it cannot have expected that, for example, a fundamentalist Christian in Texas could invoke the Code to object to an Islamic faith school in Birmingham or that a militant jihadist in Iran could object to a Jewish school in North London. Accordingly, some limitation must be inferred.’ However, the adjudicator ruled that it was clear that the BHA had standing to take the case.

Every single applicant who received a place at the school last year had sustained mass attendance by both parents and child every Sunday and on holy days; was baptised within six months of birth; had had their first Holy Communion; fulfilled the ‘Service in any Catholic Parish or in the wider Catholic Church’ criterion for at least three years; and had attended a Catholic primary. After that, random allocation is used (paragraph 22 of the ruling).