Nine Catholic ‘faith’ schools have been found by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) to be in breach of the School Admissions Code over the space of July – all due to their faith-based oversubscription criteria. No other religious school had their criteria deemed to be in breach of the Code during this period. The British Humanist Association (BHA) believes that this shows the unintended consequences that can come with allowing religious selection in schools.
When ‘faith’ schools are oversubscribed – that is to say, they have more parents applying than places available – they are often able to religiously select their pupils on religious grounds, typically up to 100%. It has been a persistent problem for many years that ‘faith’ schools often breach the School Admissions Code – an issue the BHA highlighted last year when it responded to the consultation on the new code, and the OSA itself highlighted in 2010 and 2011.
The nine state-funded schools were deemed to be in breach of the Code by the OSA. St Marys Catholic Primary School in Calderdale wanted to reduce its admissions number, in spite of their being a shortage of places locally, because only 30 of its 40 places were going to Catholics; it used Canon Law to justify this. St Thomas More Catholic School in Haringey was interviewing parents prior to admission, and allowed the Priest to accept or reject pupils without giving any criteria for doing so – both of which are not allowed as they can be used to socially select. It and Christ the King Catholic Primary School were also found to be selecting pupils on parents’ support of the ethos of the school, regardless of whether they were religious – which likely breaks equality and human rights laws. Finally, other schools were found to be asking pupils to attend religious worship as well as parents, despite this not even being one of their admissions criteria.
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘The behaviour by these schools demonstrates the huge scale of the problem of “faith” schools religiously selecting pupils in ways that are not allowed.
‘Earlier this year, research by The Guardian showed the vast extent to which religious schools exclude the poorest pupils through their faith-based selection criteria. This, taken with evidence of persistent, serious breaches of the Code, must surely lead to renewed calls for an end to faith-based selection in state schools.’
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.
The schools’ breaches
St Marys Catholic Primary School in Calderdale decided to reduce its admissions number from 40 pupils to 30, as it found it was only taking in 30 Catholic pupils a year. However, the Council objected because ‘there is an existing and worsening shortfall in primary school places. The majority of applications for places at the school come from an area of significant deprivation, and a reduction in the admission number of the school will deprive children from that area of access to a local primary school place.’ The school invoked Canon Law in defending its actions; however, this (and the reduction) was found not to be legitimately justified.
St Thomas More Catholic School in Haringey required that ‘all applicants are …expected to give their full, unreserved and positive support for the aims and ethos of the school’. Such a requirement not only breaks the Admissions Code, but likely also breaches the Human Rights Act’s right to freedom of religion or belief. The school was also interviewing parents prior to admission, and allowed a Priest to approve or reject parents without giving any criteria upon which he would do so – both of which breach the Code as they have been used by schools as forms of covert socio-economic selection.
Christ the King Catholic Primary School had its admissions objected to by Bournemouth Education Appeals Service, after it found that the school was not following its admissions criteria. The school also had a criteria that read that ‘This child is not a member of any particular denomination or faith tradition but, as parents/guardians, I/we are would like our child to be admitted to the school as it is our desire that s/he receives faith based schooling in the Catholic tradition.’ However, this likely also breaches equality and human rights legislation, as it is selecting on grounds other than religion or belief, which ‘faith’ schools are not legally able to do.
Four schools in Portsmouth – St Swithuns Catholic Primary School, St Johns Cathedral Catholic Primary School, Corpus Christi Catholic Primary School and St Pauls Catholic Primary School – were all found to be in breach of the Code. They required that parents ‘complete a liturgy and Mass attendance card for the attendance of their child at Mass’, when only the parents’ religious practice would be considered. This card required a photograph of the child. Furthermore, the schools had the local parish Priest both signing off applications and sitting as a member of the admissions committee, which was also objected to by the Diocese and was found to be a clear conflict of interest.
St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School had its admissions objected to by Wokingham Council after it failed to even publish its admissions criteria until 48 days after the deadline. In addition, the criteria implied that the religious practice of children would be considered, when it is only that of their parents.
View decisions made by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator: http://www.education.gov.uk/schoolsadjudicator/decisions
Read the School Admissions Code: https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DFE-00013-2012
Read The Guardian report, ‘Church schools shun poorest pupils’, 5 March 2012: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/mar/05/church-schools-shun-poorest-pupils
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools
View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: http://www.humanism.org.uk/_uploads/documents/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf
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.