Parents who volunteer for flower arranging should not get an advantage for oversubscribed church school places, watchdog warns
19:09 GMT, 21 December 2012
Middle-class parents who volunteer at schools and churches to help get their children into a good school should not be given favourable treatment, the schools adjudicator has said.
The warning comes after a top Roman Catholic school attended by Tony Blair’s eldest children was found to have breached admissions rules by favouring parents who helped out at church.
The London Oratory School in Fulham, south west London, was giving priority to applications from families involved in flower arranging, Bible readings and singing in the church choir.
The school – which is also favoured by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg for his eldest son, Antonio, aged ten – said it had introduced the policy to mark out committed Catholics over so-called ‘pew jumpers’.
The school attended by Tony Blair's eldest children was found to have breached admissions rules after their policy aimed to differentiate between 'pew jumpers' and committed Catholics
But the Office of the Schools Adjudicator has ruled that this was not allowed and ordered The London Oratory to revise its admissions arrangements as ‘quickly as possible’.
The watchdog stepped in after receiving two complaints about the school’s admissions arrangements from parents.
The school’s website says that when over-subscribed, it gives priority to looked after and adopted Catholic children, followed by evidence of pupils’ and parents’ regular attendance at Mass; pupil baptism and Holy Communion and ‘service in any Catholic parish or in the wider Catholic church by the candidate or a Catholic parent’.
Evidence of ‘involvement in parish activities’ includes doing Bible readings, singing in the choir, playing an instrument, altar serving, cleaning, and flower arranging.
The London Oratory school says that when over-subscribed, it gives priority to looked after and adopted Catholic children
Other approved activities listed on its website are ‘visiting or helping the sick, housebound or disadvantaged’; carrying out ‘housekeeping and maintenance of church property’ and participating in parish groups such as the Catholic Women’s League and Union of Catholic Mothers.
Prospective pupils are awarded points for their family’s involvement in these parish activities which count towards their application.
Prospective pupils are awarded points for their familys involvement in parish activities
The school has argued that it is heavily
over-subscribed with Catholic candidates and that once consideration of
looked after children, attendance at Mass and baptism have been applied
it must ‘apply further criteria’.
It told the adjudicator: ‘Service to the Church properly forms part of the religious oversubscription criteria, as there is a requirement on Catholics arising from Canon Law to undertake service and good works to the wider Church.’
But schools adjudicator Andrew Baxter said that while respecting the school’s reasons for including this factor, it is ‘clearly not compliant’ with the national School Admissions Code and must be removed.
This code bans schools from assessing applications ‘on the basis of any practical or financial support parents may give to the school or any associated organisation, including any religious authority’.
In addition, The London Oratory was rapped for asking students applying for a place in its sixth form to take an entrance test, the Times Educational Supplement revealed.
While the school told Mr Baxter this was ‘fairer to all candidates’ than relying on predicted GCSE grades, the adjudicator found this was also in breach of the national code. The school has agreed to withdraw the test.
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, yesterday said it was ‘outrageous’ for religious activities to be imposed as part of an entrance criteria, ‘particularly if this represents an imposition on parents’ resources and time’.
The London Oratory School, which became an academy in August 2011, is among the most sought-after faith schools in England and regularly sends pupils to Oxford and Cambridge.
The school has argued that it is heavily over-subscribed with Catholic candidates (posed by models)
The school, which does not admit girls until the sixth form, is rated outstanding by Ofsted and receives more than six applications for every place it offers.
Mr Blair’s children, Euan and Nicky, both attended while Kathryn joined in the sixth form. Their younger brother, Leo, currently attends a different secondary school.
Mr Clegg is understood to have toured The London Oratory as his wife, Miriam, is said to favour a religious school for their eldest son. Antonio is due to start secondary school next autumn.
There was no-one available to comment at the school yesterday.