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What are the implications of this adjudication on the admissions arrangements for St Richard Reynolds Catholic College

(42 Posts)
whatwouldrondo Sat 12-Nov-16 15:43:27

Is this ruling as potentially significant as it appears?

Background below but this appears to be the outcome -

Firstly this is an instance where the Catholic Church has had to concede on it's principle that priority in allocating places in state Catholic Schools should always be given to Catholic children, even over and above non Catholic looked after children, in the event of oversubscription. This is the principle that has led to the government proposal to do away with the requirement for a maximum of 50% of places in new Free Schools to be allocated on the basis of faith related criteria to enable the Catholic Church to open new schools. If they can concede 10 inclusive places in an existing state Catholic Primary / Senior School why not in new state funded schools.

Secondly that if the Certificate of Catholic Practise used to determine whether a child is from a practising Catholic family is not compliant with the code does it leaves schools open to appeals from parents who have not gained places because they were not granted one by their priest? How far would this apply, even to parents who did not in any way meet any definition of practising Catholic, or just those who perhaps for one reason or another did not satisfy the whims judgement of a Priest?

Thirdly coming at this point in the admissions round, after the deadline for applications, how is this not going to result in chaos?

Background (sorry if this is longwinded)

The admissions arrangements for St Richard Reynolds Catholic College (which comprises a Primary and Senior School) were referred to the Schools Adjudicator on two grounds

* that the arrangements do not define what form or frequency of religious practice is required for a priest to issue a Certificate of Catholic Practise (CCP) and that parents cannot look at the arrangements and easily understand how the faith-based oversubscription criterion may be reasonably satisfied, which is a requirement of paragraph 1.37 of the Code.

*that the parents of children who had taken up, or were considering taking up, one of the 10 places in the Primary School where the oversubscription criteria are distance rather than faith related, had been promised that those children would be given “top priority” from September 2019 for admission to the senior school but that it was not clear from this statement whether priority over Catholic or over non-Catholic children is referred to and that it is therefore potentially misleading to parents with children in this category at the primary school or considering making an application for such a place, the arrangements fail to be clear, and breach paragraph 14 of the Code.

It finds that both objections were valid along with raising a number of other issues.

The Schools website now makes clear that the priority given to pupils who have open places in the Primary School will get priority over Catholic children in the admissions process. This is significant in itself as highlighted above

The adjudication was issued on 2 November, the deadline for applications for the secondary School was 31 October.

The CCP issue is not one that would apply only to the admissions arrangements for St Richard Reynolds, it applies at a number of other Catholic Schools, hence the Catholic Education Service was present at the adjudication to present the arguments.

prh47bridge Sat 12-Nov-16 18:00:25

I don't see it as particularly significant. It will, however, cause problems for the current admissions round.

The school has removed the reference to children gaining open places at the primary school being guaranteed places at the secondary school. They do have to ensure that appropriate priority is given in their admission arrangements for 2019 and 2020 but it is clear this will then be removed. It has not been forced to concede anything on the principle beyond what it had already conceded by making this statement in the primary school admission criteria in the first place. And it has now removed the statement from the primary school admission criteria.

Regarding the CCP, they can comply with the adjudication by simply including it and the guidance to priests in their published admission arrangements. Provided the guidance gives clear, objective measures to be used when completing the CCP they are fine, although they must remove any reference to meetings between priests and parents. If the guidance does not give clear, objective measures it will need to be changed so that it falls in line with the kind of admission criteria used by most Catholic schools.

This adjudication may affect other Catholic schools that use the CCP but I don't see it having any other wider effects.

The lateness of the adjudication could cause problems with the current round of admissions. There could be a lot of appeals from parents arguing that they did not know about the change when they submitted their application.

To add to the fun, it is quite possible that the Catholic church will take this to judicial review. They clearly believe they should be able to use the CCP without publishing the guidance to priests and that the meetings between priests and parents are not interviews. I doubt they will want to give up on those points easily. It may therefore be some time before we get a final ruling.

bananasplat Sat 12-Nov-16 19:02:11

There are 4 schools in Surrey with the same ruling about the CCP, all brought to the adjudicator by Surrey County Council. One of them, St Pauls in Sunbury, is also a secondary so in the same position regarding admissions deadline already passed. They have a note on their website about it, but it looks like it was written before the judgement came out and hasn't been updated since then.

That's interesting about St Richard Reynolds having some open places as I don't know of any other Catholic schools in London that do that. Plus it sounds like when the link between the primary and the secondary is put back into their policy (in 2020?) they will also have to promote the priority of non-Catholic SEND children, which is also unusual for Catholic schools. They normally get lower priority that non-SEND Catholic children which is quite controversial with a lot of people.

prh47bridge Sat 12-Nov-16 20:49:56

No, SEND children will not be affected. Children with a statement or EHC plan naming the school are always admitted regardless of faith. Other non-Catholic SEND children will still come after all Catholic children. It is non-Catholic looked after and previously looked after children who will be promoted.

bananasplat Sat 12-Nov-16 21:10:53

You're right Prh47bridge - I got mixed up a bit there, but other RC schools I know of don't put non-Catholic looked-after children so high up on their list of priorities, so it's got to be a good thing, even if it's only from 2020 and only because their hand was forced.

Ladymuck Sat 12-Nov-16 23:07:14

Some of the CofE diocesan boards have been following it carefully to see whether it means that CofE schools which have oversubscription requirements which attempt to measure the degree of church involvement rather than simply attendance could be open to attack. They seem to be viewing it as having possibly wider implications than the use of the CCP.

bananasplat Sat 12-Nov-16 23:45:12

Yeah I'd say any policy that relies on the judgement of a church leader rather than something solid like an attendance register must be vulnerable Ladymuck.

We're CE and had to be "interviewed" by the vicar to get our reference form signed for monthly attendance as there was no register. We made sure we filled in a gift-aid slip every time we made a donation to the collection during the service so there was a paper trail if necessary. I've never heard of anyone being turned down for a signature, but I guess the process must put a lot of people off even trying in the first place.

prh47bridge Sat 12-Nov-16 23:51:58

We already know from the London Oratory case that there is a limit to how far churches can go in measuring involvement. Regrettably there will always be some schools that try it on. Most CofE schools stick to an attendance requirement.

bananasplat Sun 13-Nov-16 07:45:23

Prh47bridge it doesn't really matter if the schools have an attendance requirement, if the churches don't have an objective way of documenting attendance.

I know a lot of churches do now have registers, but many others don't, and so their vicars/priests sign the reference forms on the basis of judgement alone. That's why a lot of parents still feel they have to cover their tracks and make sure they're noticed - sign gift-aid forms, get on rotas for helping out, wear bright red and sit in the front row, etc. And heaven help (pardon the pun) anyone who falls out with the vicar shortly before their form is due to be signed. So unless the CE can persuade every CE church the country (or, in these days of high mobility, the World) to maintain an attendance register I reckon they are in the same boat as the Catholic Church, whether they realise it yet or not.

whatwouldrondo Sun 13-Nov-16 08:14:00

Thank you all for your responses, it does confirm how I read the judgement and that it will be grounds for appeal in the current admissions round barring a judicial review.

Prh The school has removed the reference to children gaining open places at the primary school being guaranteed places at the secondary school. They do have to ensure that appropriate priority is given in their admission arrangements for 2019 and 2020 but it is clear this will then be removed. It has not been forced to concede anything on the principle beyond what it had already conceded by making this statement in the primary school admission criteria in the first place. And it has now removed the statement from the primary school admission criteria.

Can I ask what basis you have for this statement which I read as saying you consider that the 10 open places in the primary school and the priority for secondary admissions is for a limited period? The website explicitly says "Note: The governing body may only determine the admissions arrangements on a year by year basis but it is the expectation that up to ten pupils who are awarded and accept an Open place will be given top priority after Catholic looked after children should they apply for a place in Year 7 at St Richard Reynolds Catholic High School when they reach Year 6 in St Richard Reynolds Catholic Primary School. This does not form part of our current admissions arrangements." It would be a big issue locally if the school went back on their commitment to provide 10 open places in the Primary School which then give the pupil priority in entering the senior school because it was only on that basis that the LEA conceded that the diocese could open a Primary School at a time when the demand for places in Catholic Primary Schools in the borough was being met but there was a severe shortage of places for non Catholic children (to the extent that some Reception children were left on waiting lists after the start of the year and some were only given places in the Spring term and then in a bulge class housed in a church hall some distance from the school site)

bananasplat Sun 13-Nov-16 08:19:12

Faith schools could solve a lot of their problems by reverting to just using baptism certificates. But I've seen a thread on here about an (RC) priest who refused to issue baptism certificates until families have proven longer-term commitment by going to church for a year after the event, so that could also be a can of worms.

whatwouldrondo Sun 13-Nov-16 08:39:10

banana The admissions criteria for some local Catholic Schools is baptism by six months. I know of quite a few cases where this has been an issue for families who for reasons of illness or because it was not the custom in their home country (especially Eastern Europe ) were not able to meet the criteria and so were denied places. I am a little surprised that the Catholic Education Service argued to the adjudicator that Priests should have the leeway to take such circumstances into account because I know of no case concerning entry to the oversubscribed Catholic Schools in London where such leeway has been given. On the other hand there are certainly Priests in the local area who apply some very idiosyncratic criteria for who they provide references too. One has no time for middle class families however often they go to church but will always provide a reference to families coming from other Catholic countries.

SerendipityPhenomenon Sun 13-Nov-16 08:57:13

Attendance on its own can never be the appropriate religious criterion, because it fails to take into account situations such as children with ill and disabled parents who can't take them to church, or people who have recently moved to the UK. I agree that there has always been something odd about criteria which essentially make the goodwill of the priest a central part of the process. I remember a case a few years ago where a C of E priest gave a certificate in relation to an older child but at the same time refused it for a younger child, even though it was accepted that the whole family attended church together. It subsequently came out that the priest was known to be, shall we say, fond of a drink, yet the governors tried for a long time to say that the decision to refuse a place to the younger child was perfectly reasonable.

meditrina Sun 13-Nov-16 09:17:41

Attendance is used because it's countable.

It can also be cumulative, from your old parish to your new one (supplying two references, in effect). If you cannot attend church, then priests will supply communion at home to their parishioners and this will count.

Worship in a specific parish being in a higher category than worship anywhere, does tend to favour local families who have been resident for some time, over those who have newly arrived (which means there is no return on making a last-minute move closer to a school you might not otherwise qualify for).

Most CofE schools have eliminated anything other than attendance and (sometimes) baptism from their SIFs. The remaining ones should be able to justify anything else they may still have lurking.

whatwouldrondo Sun 13-Nov-16 09:39:30

Admissions criteria can never make windows on men's souls, and neither can Priests come to that, whatever the Catholic Education Service argues. What this adjudication emphasises is that they must be fair and transparent so that parents can understand what is required whether it be baptism, records of attendance etc. (but not cleaning the silver)

bananasplat Sun 13-Nov-16 10:56:34

Meditrina: "Attendance is used because it's countable"

Yes, but the problem is that in many cases the church leaders aren't counting it, they're estimating it. And sometimes they're rounding it up, and sometimes they're rounding it down. And sometimes they're signing even if they don't know either way. And sometimes they're giving credit for extenuating circumstances, and sometimes they're not. And because it's all a grey area, more timid parents probably don't even bother to ask for their extenuating to be taken into account. And other parents probably exaggerate their extenuating circumstances. Etc, etc.

At least the Catholic Education Service have been upfront about the difficulties of all this, even if their proposed solution flies in the face of admissions legislation. The CofE are just leaving it down to individual priests to shoulder the responsibility, some of whom aren't very happy about it, and not just because of the usual cynicism, but also because they don't want to have registers, and don't want to get sued for not having registers: e.g.

bananasplat Sun 13-Nov-16 11:31:20

Meditrina: "priests will supply communion at home to their parishioners and this will count"

Will it? In the priests mind probably, yes. In the tightly bound wording of most admissions criteria probably not as they're not attending a place of worship.

There was a thread on here a while back about a vicar who was signing off any children who attended the primary school he was a governor of, on the grounds that he did a weekly assembly there. But of course only if their parents were brash enough to ask, and/or had heard from other parents that this was the case - nothing was official. Does that count? If priests are allowed to use their judgement then yes, but a lawyer or adjudicator might disagree.

SerendipityPhenomenon Sun 13-Nov-16 11:33:38

The problem is that it doesn't always occur to people to ask the priest to give communion at home if they are disabled or ill, and priests don't necessarily volunteer it. It would be quite unfair if their children miss out on places for that reason.

whatwouldrondo Mon 14-Nov-16 14:01:59

prh47bridge I would be interested in why you think (if I understand your post right) that the promised priority given to pupils with open places in the Primary School in the admissions criteria will only apply for a couple of years. The promise originally made by the Diocese that priority would be given is in record and they do not seem to have argued against the complaint in the arbitration. There was a feeling locally that the school were being ambivalent about the level of priority in the hope that, it being a difficult principle for the church, it would all go away and this no doubt prompted the complaint. However with the results of the arbitration surely they will stick by their original promise now?

prh47bridge Mon 14-Nov-16 14:58:44

According to the Adjudicator's decision, the school has provided revised admission arrangements for September 2017. These remove any reference to giving pupils with open places at the Primary school priority for the Secondary school. That suggests their intention is to solve the problem by not giving priority at the secondary school to pupils with open places at the primary school. However, they will have to do so for those pupils who have already been promised priority, i.e. those admitted to the primary school from 2013 to 2016.

whatwouldrondo Mon 14-Nov-16 16:08:10

prh I read the adjudication to be saying that the statement of expectation about future admissions arrangements included in the 2017 arrangements which was unclear and the subject of the complaint had been removed because the ambivalence breached the code. Given the point about elevating non Catholic children up the priorities ahead of the pupils with open places it was simpler to leave out all reference together to make the arrangements compliant. There will be no pupils with open places applying to the Senior School until 2019 so there was actually no reason to make reference to it in the admissions arrangements for 2017.

However I see no indication that their intention as expressed here is time limited, especially as they readily agreed that the existing wording in the admissions arrangements was unclear. . "Nevertheless, the college again conceded that it could not give the priority it intended to ‘open’ place children from the primary school without also giving first priority overall to all looked after and previously looked after children, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, and that it would do so in time for the first year in which there could be admissions from the primary school."

As I highlighted their website clearly continues to state in the admissions section of the website for the Primary School for 2017 that "Note: The governing body may only determine the admissions arrangements on a year by year basis but it is the expectation that up to ten pupils who are awarded and accept an Open place will be given top priority after Catholic looked after children should they apply for a place in Year 7 at St Richard Reynolds Catholic High School when they reach Year 6 in St Richard Reynolds Catholic Primary School. This does not form part of our current admissions arrangements." Again there is no indication that this is a time limited intention.

Obviously things can change year to year but given the circumstances and ruling I see no reason to suppose at this stage that the school will, the principle of priority being given to Catholic children for 100% of the places was already conceded in 2013 by the diocese, any attempt to try to quietly go back on that seems much less likely as a result of the adjudication.

whatwouldrondo Mon 14-Nov-16 16:08:58

non Catholic looked after children

prh47bridge Mon 14-Nov-16 17:23:09

They certainly cannot and will not go back on it for children admitted to the primary school in 2013, 2014, 2015 or 2016. Unless they remove the statement from their website quickly they will have to stick to it for children admitted in 2017 as well. I am not convinced they will continue to offer this for children admitted in 2018 or later. My reading of the adjudication is that 2017 entrants to the primary school will be the last ones to benefit from this but I may be wrong. We'll have a better idea this time next year. Whatever they do next year, they can withdraw this at any time for future admissions to the primary school. What they cannot do is withdraw it for any pupils who joined the school when this statement was on their website or in their admission arrangements.

bananasplat Mon 14-Nov-16 18:29:45

It's a bit odd that they say they will prioritise the children in the open places for the secondary, but not the ones in the RC places. If my kids had an RC place in the primary I'd be annoyed about that. Maybe when they change the policy they'll link all of the places.

It does make it clear that RC children should be considered for the open places too, but at the moment because they don't make it clear which places are allocated first they might not even know which type of place they have unless they ask.

whatwouldrondo Mon 14-Nov-16 19:31:42

banana I know that the subject has been raised and I assume it is taken on trust that the admissions arrangements will be changed in 2019 for those in RC places, most of whom would get in anyway. This has become an issue because the unclear wording undermined the trust and made it appear as if they were going back on their original promise . As I say it would be an issue for local parents because of the way the school was allowed to open a Primary when there was a much greater need for inclusive community school places.

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