Canon Law blocks sibling places at Sacred Heart Teddington Siblings playing

RISC argues for inclusive, non-faith-based admissions to all state schools, including church schools. We know that many non-churchgoing families would be happy to send their children to their local faith school, and we think it’s wrong for admissions policies to discriminate against them when the school is being funded using public money.

However, even those families who have been able to access a place find that they are still sometimes disadvantaged by discriminatory sibling admission policies, which prioritise faith-based selection over the siblings of their non-faith pupils.

This case study is just one example....

In 2012, because there weren't enough places in local primary schools, Richmond Council asked Sacred Heart Catholic Primary in Teddington to take a one-off "bulge class".  Places in the bulge class were offered to a number of children from non-Catholic families.

Most of the parents happily accepted the places; it’s a good school and we've been told that their children are happy there. However, now that Sacred Heart has returned to its original size for 2013 entry and beyond, what are the chances of younger siblings of the bulge cohort getting a place at the school?

The bulge class increased the 2012 intake from just one class (30 children) to two (60 children), so while we've heard that there are still some places for non-Catholic families this year, it is easy to see how there might be a glut of siblings applying a year or two down the line. That can be a potential issue in any school that takes a bulge class, but in this case there's an extra complication.

At local community schools, siblings are given priority in the admissions criteria, in recognition of the logistical difficulties created when families have to transport their young children to different schools.

However, Sacred Heart does not give siblings automatic priority.  Their oversubscription criteria are as follows:

1. Catholic looked after children.

2. Baptised children of practising Catholic families (see note A).

3. Other Baptised children of Catholic families

4. Other looked after children.

5 Catechumens and Christians of other denominations whose parents wish their child to have a Catholic education and whose application is supported by their minister.

6. Children of other faiths whose parents wish their child to have a Catholic education and whose application is supported by a religious leader.

7. Any other applicants.

The attendance of a sibling in the school at the time of enrolment will increase the priority of an application within each category.

So younger siblings from non-religious families will be admitted under category 7, the lowest priority.  Unless the school is undersubscribed, they stand very little chance of a place.

How are the affected parents and the school reacting to this?

When one of the parents asked the school to make a temporary arrangement for siblings of children allocated to the bulge class, the school consulted the Diocese of Westminster. The answer was as follows:

“[O]ur Trust Deed requires us to prioritise Catholics, and ... as a school we cannot deviate from the Trust Deed.... [The Diocese lawyer] advised us that other schools had faced our predicament and consequently also sought advice from the Diocese, whereupon the issue had been referred to the (then) Director of Education for Westminster, Paul Barber. He confirmed that, given the terms of the Trust Deed, there was no scope for change.”

You can read the Trust Deed here. It's very wide-ranging and includes a directive from the Diocese, based on Canon Law, which says that:

“... Catholic schools shall always give priority to Catholic applicants above all other applicants. The definition of Catholic for the purposes of school admission shall be defined in accordance with diocesan guidance.”

So that’s it. A child in the borough of Richmond is denied an equal opportunity of a place at a school attended by their brother or sister because of Canon Law set by the Vatican and implemented via the Diocese.  

So what happens now?

The affected parents are planning to raise the profile of the issue, to see if anything can be done.  RISC will support them where we can, and we'll be reporting what happens.  Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss this issue, or similar problems at your own children's school.

Related Links:

May 03rd 2013: Letter to RTT from affected parent

May 13th 2013: RISC Press Release

May 10th 2013: Accord Press Release

May 17th 2013: Article in RTT

May 24th 2013: Two more letters in the RTT