London Oratory vs Schools Adjudicator: High Court judgment leaves vast majority of adjudicator’s findings upheld
Last week, the High Court handed down a judgment in the long-running dispute between the London Oratory School in west London and the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA), which led the school to describe its challenge as ‘successful’. However, despite comments from the school declaring a victory, a full reading of the judgment reveals that even in cases where the judge ruled in favour of the school, the victory was partial, temporary, and/or of no practical consequence. The British Humanist Association’s (BHA’s) detailed analysis of the judgment reaches the following conclusions:
- Last year the OSA found a total of 105 breaches of the School Admissions Code, which all state schools are obliged to follow. However, in its judicial review the school chose to challenge the determination on only a handful of these grounds, leaving the vast majority of the breaches undisputed from the start.
- Mr Justice Cobb upheld the OSA’s decision that the school can no longer include a ‘Catholic Service criterion’ in its admissions policy which had previously allowed it to give priority to children on the basis of activities such as flower arranging. Reintroducing this criterion was the primary focus of the school’s challenge and on this they have lost.
- The OSA’s conclusion that the school’s intake is socio-economically skewed was not refuted by the judge, who even agreed that some social selection of school candidates is ‘inherent’ in the Oratory’s admissions criteria. Instead the judge merely refuted the way in which the OSA set out that the faith-based selection caused this discrimination.
- In ruling that the school may continue to give priority to those attending Catholic primaries, Mr Justice Cobb failed to identify that the Admissions Code prohibits schools from asking for additional information in order to do this. Further, his conclusion that schools may take into account the type of school attended, just not the name, is seems to the BHA to be a strange reading of the Code and is more than likely not what is intended by the wording. Clarification of the Code may be needed in this regard.
- Despite ruling against the school on allowing two parents to sign the admissions form, Mr Justice Cobb describes the OSA decision in this regard as ‘verging on the pedantic’. This statement seems to the BHA to exhibit an insufficient appreciation of the importance of schools making it clear that only one parent is considered in any religious oversubscription criteria.
The judge’s ruling that there will ‘need to be a further determination of the School’s approach to the Diocesan Guidance…and the adequacy of the reasons for departure’ effectively leaves a large portion of the judgment unresolved.
In effect then, and regardless of any further submissions sought by the judge, the school still has to change its admissions policy almost entirely in the way the OSA determined last year. The school’s interpretation of the judgment as a victory is therefore in error.
Responding to the judgment, BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson commented, ‘The Oratory still stands as having been found guilty of something like 99 breaches of the School Admissions Code. The evidence is clear, the school’s intake has consistently been found to be socio-economically skewed and Mr Justice Cobb did not refute the adjudicator’s contention that a degree of social selection of school candidates was ‘inherent’ in the admissions criteria. It is amongst the ten most socio-economically selective state secondary schools in the country, taking just 6% of pupils eligible for school meals compared to 36% locally.
‘At any rate the school failed to achieve the main aim of its challenge, as the judgment clearly upholds the OSA’s decision that it must stop selecting pupils on the basis of activities such as flower arranging. It’s clear that nothing has really been resolved in the school’s favour with this judgment and some aspects depend on further submissions and clarification.’
For further information, please contact Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson on 07815 589 636
Read the full judgment: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/oratory_school-170415-final-2.pdf
Read the BHA’s detailed analysis of the judgment: http://humanistlife.org.uk/2015/04/20/what-did-the-ruling-in-the-london-oratory-case-actually-mean/
The BHA first complained about the school’s admissions policy in May 2013. In August 2013 the OSA issued a decision upholding the complaint and ruling against the school, but the school threatened to judicially review this, and in November the OSA found an inconsequential error in its report, leading to the decision being quashed. The new determination made in July 2014, which also looked at the school’s latest policy, again found against the school, and on a much more comprehensive basis than before.
However, in October the School applied to judicially review the decision on nine grounds, including the findings of socio-economic discrimination, of taking account of religious activities not permitted by the school’s Diocese, and of taking into account the religious practice of both parents instead of just one.
Since first submitting this complaint, the BHA has helped found the Fair Admissions Campaign. ‘The 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.’ http://fairadmissions.org.uk/
Read the BHA’s previous comment, ‘Landmark ruling: Schools Adjudicator finds London Oratory School admissions policy to be both racially and socio-economically discriminatory’, 15 July 2014: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/07/15/landmark-ruling-schools-adjudicator-finds-london-oratory-school-admissions-policy-racially-socio-economically-discriminatory/
Read the OSA’s decision from July 2014: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/ADA-2410-The-London-Oratory-School-LBHF-15-July-2014.doc
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools
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.