Brentwood school told to change admission policy

A Brentwood primary school has been told to change its admission policy because it discriminates against Catholic children living closest to it.

The School’s Adjudicator has agreed with objectors who believe that the admission arrangements for St Joseph the Worker in Hutton are unfair to families because the policy resulted in a widening of the catchment area to include the whole of the Deanery of Brentwood.

Adjudicator Ann Talboys said the policy in its current state removes the priority for families living in the Parish of St Joseph the Worker, restricts applications to families for whom the school is the closest Catholic school and discriminates against siblings of children who are already at the school and whose families live in areas previously covered by the catchment area.

She said families were unaware of a consultation process into the change in policy and that they were therefore unable to make their views known to the school about the proposed arrangements, and that the school should have consulted with parents of children aged between two and 18.

She added there was “no evidence that the school consulted with parents of children under school age”.

The school, which as a voluntary aided school is publicly funded through Essex County Council, now has to change its admission policy for 2020 by September 30, 2019.

The Catholic primary, which caters for five to 11-year-olds and admits 30 children each year, has for the past two years been oversubscribed – in September 2019 there were 55 first preference applications.

The policy in question gives first priority to looked after children and previously looked after children from Catholic families, followed by Catholic children with a Certificate of Catholic Practice (CPP) who are residents in the Deanery of Brentwood and for whom St Joseph the Worker is the nearest catholic school.

These children are then followed by other Catholic children who are resident in the Deanery of Brentwood for whom St Joseph the Worker is the nearest Catholic school, then other Catholic children, other looked after and previously looked after children, Catechumens (children receiving instruction prior to Christian baptism or confirmation) and members of an eastern Christian church and lastly any other children.

The adjudicator added that the impact of the new arrangements on families living near to the school (in the parish of St Joseph the Worker) will be that first children will be disadvantaged because the arrangements give priority for any sibling from anywhere in the deanery to take priority before distance from the school is considered.

Ms Talboys said: “This may well impact on the ability of local Catholic families, with or without a CCP to obtain a place for a firstborn child.

“I consider this unreasonable for those families who live near to the school.”

She added that including a nearest Catholic school element to the policy means that children living nearer to St Helen’s Catholic Infant or Junior Schools in Sawyers Hall Lane would, in the new arrangements, be in category four of the criteria and therefore highly unlikely to gain a place at the school.

It would also mean that children who live nearer to St Helen’s but who have a sibling at the school would also be in category four of the criteria and therefore highly unlikely to gain a place.

Ms Talboys said: “I conclude that the removal of the parish as a priority and the inclusion of siblings as a first priority in all oversubscription criteria will seriously disadvantage local Catholic families with a first born who wishes to apply to the school. I consider this unreasonable.”

She added that the removal of parish criteria and the absence of an explanation of boundaries of the deanery in the school’s criteria made the arrangements unclear.

The school has been approached for comment.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter