ONLY days after the Office of the Schools Adjudicator ruled that
Bristol Cathedral Choir School needed specific ministerial
permission to give priority in admissions to choristers, the
Department for Education has sent the necessary legal document.
The permission, known as a derogation, had been inadvertently
omitted from the Funding Agreement when Bristol Cathedral Choir
School became an academy in 2008.
On Wednesday, the choir school's Principal, Neil Blundell, said:
"We never really believed there was any question of the school
having to refuse places to choristers for this September, but the
Department's action removes any doubt, and I am grateful for such a
"Importantly, it represents a seal of approval from the
Government, ensuring that the long tradition of cathedral choir
schools can flourish in the state sector."
The technical error had been discovered by the adjudicator, Dr
Elizabeth Passmore, who had been investigating objections by the
Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) that admissions arrangements for
choristers at Bristol Cathedral Choir School were unfair. Dr
Passmore did not uphold the objection, and ruled that giving
priority to probationary choristers was neither unfair nor
unreasonable, and did not breach admission-code rules on parental
support for the school or selection by ability.
Dr Passmore turned down the FAC's argument that the assessment
of musical aptitude was a test of ability. It was a test of
aptitude which was self-evidently necessary for a child to become a
probationary chorister, she ruled.
Nevertheless, she told the choir school that it might not, for
the present, give priority in admissions from the closely
associated Cathedral Primary School, which is a free school. The
school will also have to bring forward the verbal-reasoning test
taken by all applicants to ensure spread of ability.
Mr Blundell said that a previous investigation by the Schools
Adjudicator, 18 months ago, had cleared chorister-admission
arrangements of the choir school. Governors and staff were
committed to complying with complex changes to ensure fair
admissions. "However," he said, "when schools come under attack
from campaigners, they must divert considerable resources -
teachers' time and taxpayers' money - into investigating and
resolving the issues raised."
One of the most oversubscribed schools in Bristol, and among the
top 100 secondaries in England, Bristol Cathedral Choir School
received 785 applications for its 120 Year 7 places. Only eight
places are reserved for choristers.
The FAC, which targets schools with a religious designation, is
backed by the British Humanist Association, and organisations
affiliated to the Accord alliance.
It has also turned its attention to another school in Bristol,
St Mary Redcliffe and Temple, a C of E voluntary aided, 1600-pupil
comprehensive with examination results that place it among the top
20 per cent of all secondary schools in England. Each year, there
are more than 600 applications - of which 300 are first preferences
- for 216 Year 7 places.
In a series of objections to the school's admissions code, the
FAC argued that giving priority to applicants from Christian or
other faiths discriminated against those from disadvantaged
economic backgrounds. Further discrimination, the FAC said,
resulted from the requirement for applications for faith-based
places to be supported by two appropriate signatures. Neither
objection was upheld by the adjudicator, Dr Bryan Slater.
Dr Slater did, however, require some general administrative
changes for future years. The school's head teacher, Elisabeth
Gilpin, said that, after a meeting with the Schools Adjudicator in
October, some details around clarity of wording, and the date when
criteria were published on the website, had been picked up and put
by Margaret Holness, Education
THE British Humanist Association (BHA) has asked the European
Commission to review UK legislation that permits schools with a
religious designation to include religious criteria when recruiting
Voluntary aided schools are allowed to specify a religious
commitment, in line with the faith of the school, for all staff; in
voluntary controlled schools, only the head teacher and
religious-education specialist are included in the legislation.
The legislation applies to Church of England, Roman Catholic,
Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and Sikh schools within the maintained
system. The BHA is challenging the legislation - which the
Government insists is in line with relevant European directives -
on the basis that schools can insist on applicants' being of a
specific faith only where there is a genuine occupational
requirement. European law also permits churches and church schools
to derogate from the general principle within limits, taking into
account the organisation's ethos.
The BHA's challenge, it is understood, is based on the view that
expressing a preference for, rather than insisting on, a candidate
with appropriate religious views does not imply a genuine
A spokesman for the Church of England said: "Our schools are
required to maintain a C of E ethos by the trusts that govern their
land, and, in pursuit of this requirement, we are advised that
European law allows us some flexibility in recruitment.
"However, we would encourage all schools, when recruiting, to
consider carefully what the re-quirements for any particular post
might be, and how these sit with maintaining the ethos of the