The Diocese of Westminster has welcomed the publication of a ruling by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator on the admission arrangements of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School – a comprehensive school in the trusteeship of the diocese.
In his determination the Schools Adjudicator upheld a number of objections made by the Diocese of Westminster to the admission arrangements of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, which is situated in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. These objections sought to ensure that the school's admission criteria followed the guidance issued by the Diocese of Westminster and did not breach the School Admissions Code.
The Schools Adjudicator, Alan Parker, agreed with the Diocese of Westminster that the overall admissions arrangements of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School are not “clear, objective and fair” (Paragraph 95 of the Schools Adjudicator’s Determination) The evidence presented by the Diocese of Westminster persuaded him that “the school’s arrangements and policies risk having an unfair discriminatory effect and that insufficient attention has been given to promoting equity.”(Paragraph 78 of the Schools Adjudicator's Determination).
This ruling – the first ever made following an objection brought by a diocese - also confirmed that in determining their admission arrangements, Catholic schools must follow the guidance of their Diocesan Bishop unless they have justification not to do so. In the case of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School the Schools Adjudicator said: 'I was not persuaded that the school’s arguments reached the necessary threshold of justification and I have therefore upheld relevant objections.' (Paragraph 102 of the Schools Adjudicator's Determination)
The determination upheld the Diocese of Westminster's central objection that the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School’s complex points system and criteria “inappropriately give priority according to the applicant’s, or his parent’s, involvement in church related activities.” (Paragraph 92 of the Schools Adjudicator's Determination) This was contrary to the Admissions Code and the Diocesan Bishop’s Guidance, and the Adjudicator said: “In order to have proper regard to diocesan guidance the points system should be dropped in favour of the determination of membership and practice of the Catholic faith as defined by the diocese.” (Paragraph 99 of the Schools Adjudicator's Determination)
The Diocesan Bishop’s Guidance lays down that, for the purposes of school admissions, a person is a practising Catholic if they observe the Church's precept of attending Mass on Sundays and holydays of obligation. In addition, a school should not impose a higher requirement of practice than that laid down by the Church itself.
Sixth Form Admissions
The Diocese had also objected that the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School’s admission arrangements for its Sixth Form did not comply with the Code by asking for samples of work, ‘personal statements’ and references from previous schools. In his determination, the Schools Adjudicator agreed and ordered the school to delete the offending paragraphs with immediate effect. (Paragraph 98 of the Schools Adjudicator's Determination)
Music Aptitude Selection
Additionally, the Schools Adjudicator found that, in respect of the 10% of its intake selected according to aptitude for Music, “the school is using inappropriate tests to make the selection” and accordingly he ordered that “the unlawful aspects of the selection process must cease forthwith.” (Paragraphs 93 and 98 of the Schools Adjudicator's Determination)
Comments from Bishop George Stack
Bishop George Stack, Chairman of the Diocese of Westminster’s Education Commission, said:
“The Diocese of Westminster is committed to the Church’s mission of making a Catholic education available for all Catholic children. It is important that Catholic schools’ admissions arrangements allow the Catholic communities they serve access to those places on an equitable basis, and are seen to comply with the Schools Admissions Code. The diocese will continue to advise and assist schools in formulating admission policies which comply with the Admissions Code. The Diocese of Westminster, will, however, also exercise its authority in objecting to arrangements where necessary in order to ensure that implementation of the Admissions Code continues to reflect the Church’s mission.”
Comments from Paul Barber
Paul Barber, Director of Education for the Diocese of Westminster, said:
“The Diocese of Westminster has worked hard with the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School over a number of years to help the governors understand and implement the requirements of the School Admissions Code and the Diocesan Bishop’s Guidance. Referring the school’s arrangements to the Schools Adjudicator was done as a matter of last resort when it became clear that the school was breaching important principles of the Schools Admissions Code and adopting admission requirements running contrary to the interests of the Catholic community as a whole.”
“The Diocese gives its schools advice and support to ensure that their admission arrangements support the mission of the Church and are fair and transparent. We are pleased that the Schools Adjudicator recognised the role that the Diocesan Bishop’s Guidance plays in ensuring that the intake of Catholic schools reflects the full mix of academic ability, socio-economic make-up and ethnic diversity of the wider Catholic community in the area they serve.”
“I hope that the ruling of the Schools Adjudicator will allow the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School to work together with the Diocese of Westminster on revised admission arrangements which conform to the School Admission Code and take full account of the Diocesan Bishop's Guidance.”