Canon law, schools admission and the state (continued)

Earlier this year we reported that on 28 August 2013, under section 88H(4) School Standards and Framework Act 1998, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator partially upheld the British Humanist Association’s objection to the admission arrangements for the London Oratory School determined by the Board of Governors for the London Oratory School Trust, hereIn addition, the adjudicator held that in relation section 88I(5) of the Act, there were matters within the determination that did not conform with the requirements relating to admission arrangements, and under the School Admissions Code, the admission authority was required to revise its admission arrangements as quickly as possible.

However, on 24 January 2014 the BHA reported that “government’s lawyers have demanded that the decision is quashed”, as a result of “an arguable error in that determination of no material consequence”.  At issue is the “Catholic service criterion” within the admission criteria, which was found by the OSA to break the Schools Admissions Code in three different ways: it was deemed to be unfair; it constitutes financial or practical support for the Church; and it prioritizes children on the basis of their own or their parents’ past or current hobbies or activities (paragraph 1.9i).  However, in relation to the last criterion, faith schools “may take account of religious activities, as laid out by the body or person representing the religion or religious denomination”.

The August decision of the adjudicator stated “[t]he diocese… has published guidance to schools on admissions and this is where I would expect to see such religious activities laid out if they are to be [permitted]”, but added “[h]owever, the guidance is silent on this matter”.  In September, the OSA’s decision was challenged by the London Oratory School with particular reference to the ‘Catholic service criterion’.

Following failed mediation with the Department for Education, the Treasury Solicitor is reported to have declared that as the diocesan guidance is not silent on the matter, there is an arguable error of law, and the entire decision must be quashed and re-considered.  The BHA notes that the parties could have sought a declaration from the court that this one portion of the decision is in error, but the other parties were unwilling to accept this option.

 At the time of writing, only the BHA report was available. More detailed comment will be made when information from the OSA/Department of Education is published.

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