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Primary Education News
News Tony Blair sons' former school ordered to change admission policy
London Oratory found to show bias towards parents who gave three years of practical help to local Catholic church
The Roman Catholic school where Tony Blair sent his sons has been ordered to change its admissions policy after a watchdog said it broke rules by giving preference to pupils whose parents spent at least three years giving practical help to their local church community.
The Office of the Schools Adjudicator ruled that the London Oratory school in Fulham, a state secondary, broke a section of the official admissions code for schools intended to prevent parents from obtaining places for their offspring by giving practical or financial support to schools or associated bodies like the church. Such rules are in place to prevent non-selective schools covertly targeting an overly privileged intake.
The adjudicator, David Lennard Jones, said he needed help to understand London Oratory's complex admissions policy, which uses a grid system to score pupils against eight mainly religious criteria before distributing places to those who make it through by a random ballot.
The school, where Nick Clegg's eldest son, Antonio, will attend next month, had agreed to review its wording, Jones said.
London Oratory has been ordered to make it clearer that non-Catholic pupils can be admitted if the places are not filled by Catholics – an unlikely prospect given that there are usually five applicants per place for pupils aged 11.
The school, which takes pupils from across London, was also told to stop citing attendance at a Catholic primary school as a criterion, as this is only allowed for designated feeder schools.
The process began after a complaint from the British Humanist Association (BHA), which argues that some religious state schools use faith-based admissions criteria to unfairly select pupils based on social background or likely academic aptitude. More than 90% of pupils obtain five or more good GCSEs compared with a local average of about 65%.
Under its admissions policies, one of the criteria under which children are scored is "service" by a child or their parent within a Catholic church or community over at least three years, for example singing in the choir, arranging flowers or church-based voluntary work. The school argues this is religious activity, which is permitted under the admissions code.
The adjudicator disagreed, arguing that this criterion meant parents who wanted a place for their children needed to start planning three years before applying, or four years before the child was admitted. "This process will favour those parents who are good at planning ahead and are sufficiently well organised to identify the admission criteria, who ensure that they undertake the necessary activities and keep sufficient records to be able to evidence that they have done this," he said.
The ruling added: "In principle, it feels unfair that any admission criterion should require parents to be thinking about school admissions four years ahead of the actual time of admission."
Richy Thompson of the BHA said: "This state-funded school is one of the most socioeconomically selective in the country, taking in under 20% as many pupils requiring free school meals as live in the area in which it is based. The degree to which the school's admissions criteria enabled social engineering to take place was appalling, and we are very pleased these parts must now all be removed."