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Bury School cleared of racist admissions rules

12 June 2015


BURY Church of England High School in Greater Manchester, accused by the Accord Coalition of using admissions criteria that were "indirectly racist", was cleared last week in a determination by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA).

The OSA decision was the second in 12 months to decline to uphold an objection by campaigners that aspects of the school's admissions policy contravened Equality legislation.

The Accord Coalition, which made the second referral, is a group of campaigning organisations opposed to religious tests for the admission of pupils and employment of staff at voluntary aided schools.

Its objection had argued that because Bury High School was situated in a predominantly Pakistani Muslim area, its oversubscription criteria giving priority - after looked-after children and those with special needs - to applicants who attended a Christian church, amounted to "indirect racism". Only four of the school's 780 pupils were of Pakistani heritage, it said.

But OSA adjudications published last September and this month ruled that the school's admissions criteria were proportionate to its legitimate aim of offering a Christian education in the Anglican tradition which emphasised the importance of attendance at worship.

The school was not the only oversubscribed school in Bury, they said. As the only C of E school in Bury, it served an area wider than the immediate locality, a situation that was supported by head teachers of neighbouring schools.

Manchester diocese's director of education, Maurice Smith, said that the school's admission arrangements had been looked at twice by the Schools Adjudicator after referrals by the Accord Coalition.

"On each occasion, the Adjudicator confirmed that the school's arrangements do not amount to indirect discrimination on the grounds of race, and that they are in conformity with the requirements relating to admissions," he said

Paul Pettinger, co-ordinator of the Accord Coalition, which had seen the most recent OSA investigation of Bury High School as a test case, said that last week's adjudication was "appalling".

The organisation was considering its options, one of which was to seek a judicial review of the OSA determination.

Referrals by the Accord Coalition or its member organisations often appear to target C of E schools for apparently minor and unintentional infringements of admissions regulations. Recent referrals include two concerning Bristol Cathedral School and another involving Greycoat Academy, Westminster.

The organisation has also produced a map highlighting church schools that, it said, took fewer black and ethnic minority and disadvantaged pupils than neighbouring schools.

One of those named was Trinity High School, Manchester, where more than 40 per cent of pupils qualify for free school meals and the Pupil Premium paid for children from economically poor homes. Of the 1200 pupils, only 250 are from a white British background. An OFSTED report, rating the school outstanding, praised its "remarkable diversity".

Although Roman Catholic schools tended to have stricter church-attendance requirements than C of E schools, the Accord Coalition had referred only one RC school to the OSA, Mr Pettinger said. The organisation had looked into the arrangements at four others, but had decided to take no action.

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