December 10 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, August 29, 2013
A top Catholic state school in south west London attended by Tony Blair and Nick Clegg’s children has been ordered to revise its admissions policy by a watchdog which said some of the rules are unfair.
The London Oratory School was heavily criticised by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator for prioritising children based on whether they or their parents sing in the choir, arrange flowers in church, serve at the altar or are involved in wider Catholic Church activities such as visiting the sick.
The ruling said it is a breach of the admissions code for the school to include ‘service in a Catholic Parish or in the wider Catholic Church’ as one of its criteria for selecting pupils.
Former prime minister Mr Blair sent his two eldest sons, Nicky and Euan, to the school while daughter Kathryn is believed to have joined in the sixth form.
Earlier this year Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said his oldest son, 11-year-old Antonio, will join the school this autumn.
Based in Fulham, the high-achieving school, which is heavily oversubscribed, uses strict criteria to select pupils.
This involves giving points to candidates based on a number of elements starting with how often the child and his parents attend mass, followed by whether the child fulfils the Church’s requirements on baptism and whether they have received their first Holy Communion.
The fourth criteria sees points awarded based on whether the child or a Catholic parent has served in any Catholic parish or the wider Church.
This could include reading or singing in the choir, playing an instrument, altar serving or flower arranging, assisting in parish work by visiting those in need or taking part in parish groups, or getting involved in other activities such as voluntary work by visiting and helping sick or housebound people.
The British Humanist Association lodged an objection with the adjudicator over the service element, saying it breaches England’s admissions code.
In a written ruling, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator said the school argued the service criteria does not breach the code because the activities described are religious duties required by canon law.
The adjudicator, David Lennard Jones, said he does not dispute the school’s reference to canon law, but concluded the admissions code does not allow practical support to a school, or organisation like the Catholic Church, to be used to prioritise children for places.
He said the system favours parents who are ‘good at planning ahead’ and identify the school’s admissions criteria, and said it discriminates against Catholics who practise their faith in other ways, he said.
Mr Lennard Jones said: “In principle, it feels unfair that any admissions criterion should require parents to be thinking about school admissions four years ahead of the actual time of admission.”
The school has also been asked to revise its rules to make it clearer that non-Catholic children can be admitted if spaces are available.
London Oratory headmaster David McFadden told The Times newspaper: “The school reserves the right to appeal against this decision by a judicial review.”