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Admissions policy was not fair to single parents

21 February 2014

"Unfair" criteria: Greycoat Academy, in Westminster

"Unfair" criteria: Greycoat Academy, in Westminster

THE Office of the Schools Adjudicator has told Greycoat Church of England Academy, Westminster, that it must not take account of family involvement in church activities such as flower-arranging or leading evening groups when allocating places, because the practice could disadvantage single-parent families. The Academy must change its admissions policy, the adjudicator has directed.

Although the ruling applies specifically to Greycoat Academy, it could have implications for other schools with a religious character. Similar points systems are, however, rare among church schools. According to a recent survey of C of E secondary schools, three in four offer more than half their places without using any faith criteria. "Those that do so must comply with the admissions code, and it is in the rarest of circumstances that this is referred to the adjudicator," a spokesman for the Board of Education said.

National Society admissions guidelines advise schools not to use complex points systems, and to simplify criteria relating to church attendance.

The Determination was published last November, but received little publicity at the time. The adjudicator, David Lennard Jones, partially upheld objections by an unnamed member of the public to the admissions criteria at Greycoat, a sought-after girls' school founded in 1698. It regularly receives more than 960 applications for its 150 first-year places.

The school gives priority to "looked-after" children, or those who have formerly been looked after; then to children who have attended three named feeder schools or who live in three local parishes; then to those with sisters at the school.

A further 15 places are reserved for applicants with a particular aptitude for languages. Applicants for the remaining places had, in the past, received additional points for family involvement for church activities.

The adjudicator agreed with the objector that this practice was unfair to applicants whose parents, particularly single parents, had little spare time. "Single-parent families might find it harder, as might some two-parent families to get involved in church activities that required babysitting or involved financial outlay," the Determination said.

The adjudicator did not, however, uphold a further objection that aspects of the school's academic banding arrangements were un-fair.

In a statement to the adjudicator, Greycoat said that two-thirds of pupils were from ethnic-minority families, and more than one in four received free school meals. The points system for church-related activities had been discussed with three non-Anglican Christian churches, and were intended to give committed families the best chance of obtaining a place at the school.

But it has emerged that the Greycoat Academy Trust had disregarded advice from London Diocesan Board for Schools that its points system did not comply with guidelines. The trust had also insisted that clergy referring applicants confirmed five years of previous church attendance rather than the two years recommended by the diocese, the Determination revealed.

Liz Wolverson, LDBS's head of school-support services, said: "Since the Determination, we have worked closely with Greycoat Academy to ensure they comply with the admissions code, and maintain their social and educational mix."

In the past, it was not uncommon for popular church schools to favour applicants with church involvement.

In the same way, community activities such as leading youth organisations sometimes helped families gain places at oversubscribed local-authority schools. Such practices are now ruled inadmissible by the national Schools Admissions code.

Although academies and voluntary aided schools are responsible for their own admissions criteria, they have to comply with the code. Church schools are legally required to consult their diocese before making admissions arrangements, and follow diocesan guidelines.

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