Judge to rule on school entry rules

Published: Friday 17th April 2015 by The News Editor

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A judge will rule today on the legality of the admissions code adopted by one of England’s oldest and most distinguished Catholic state-funded boys’ schools.

Last month, the High Court heard that the religious ethos of The London Oratory, whose pupils have included the sons of former prime minister Tony Blair, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman, was in danger of being damaged by an education watchdog’s attack on its policy.

The school is challenging findings by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) that many aspects of its arrangements for 2014 and 2015 breached the schools admissions code.

The OSA investigation was triggered by a complaint from the British Humanist Association about the faith-based criteria used to select pupils for places at the heavily oversubscribed Catholic academy, founded in 1863.

Charles Bear QC told Mr Justice Cobb that the adjudicators’ report was flawed by basic errors and a failure to apply the right legal tests.

He rejected the accusation by adjudicator Dr Bryan Slater that less well-off Catholic families were “unfairly disadvantaged” by the school’s admissions policy and accused the adjudicator of misconstruing the meaning of the admissions code, adopting an unfair procedure and reaching “logically unsustainable” findings.

He said the popular and successful school promoted “a strongly Catholic ethos” and aimed to serve the Catholic community across the whole of London, taking in pupils from, on average, at least 25 boroughs.

Its pan-London mission was to assist parents to educate their children in the principles and teachings of the Catholic Church, and provide a unique liturgical culture founded in the spiritual and musical traditions of its founders.

Because it was so heavily oversubscribed, there were annually 800 or more 11-year-olds applying for 160 places while its junior house and co-educational sixth form were similarly oversubscribed.

Mr Bear said: “The school view is that altering the faith-based criteria will alter the composition of the (pupil) intake and damage the school ethos.”

James Goudie QC argued that Dr Slater adopted the correct legal tests and was also “clear, fair and logical, and also completely consistent with the school admissions code”.

The judge was told the school had reluctantly taken the view that its judicial review application could not be determined in time for the current admissions round and therefore it had changed its 2015 admissions arrangements to reflect the adjudicator’s findings.

But it wants clarification of whether the admissions policy it favours is lawful in time for pupil entries in September 2016 and for future years.

Published: Friday 17th April 2015 by The News Editor

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