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St Catherine of Siena Catholic Primary School

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2019-2020 Consultation

Admission Consultation 2019-2020

St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Primary School is consulting on its admissions policy for the academic year 2019-2020.

As a result of revised guidance from the Diocese of Westminster (following a recent determination in the High Court) the policy below contains two significant changes to recent years.

The changes are as follows:

1. Sibling rule - As a school, families have always come first and, for many years, the Governing Board has allocated priority to siblings regardless of faith. The revised admissions guidance from the Diocese of Westminster specifies that priority must be given to Catholic children and our oversubscription criteria has been amended to reflect this, whilst maintaining a priority for siblings where possible.

2. Certificate of Catholic Practice – The guidance also states that schools should only use this certificate for admissions in exceptional circumstances if all Catholic schools in the local area are oversubscribed with Catholic children. Therefore, the requirement for a ‘Certificate of Catholic Practice’ on application has been removed.

The proposed admission arrangements for 2019-2020 are available below and the Herts website at www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/admissions2019 . The consultation period is for 6 weeks between 20th November 2017 and 5th January 2018.

All responses should be sent direct to The Admissions Committee via the school office (admin@st-catherine.herts.sch.uk or by post).

Update - 9th February 2018

Admissions Policy 2019/20 – Response to consultation

Introduction

St Catherine of Siena Catholic Primary School recently consulted on its admissions policy for the academic year 2019/20. As a result of guidance from the Diocese of Westminster (following a recent determination in the High Court) the revised policy contained two significant changes to recent years:

  1. Sibling rule – The guidance specifies that priority must be given to Catholic children and the oversubscription criteria have been amended to reflect this, whilst maintaining a priority for siblings where possible.
  2. Certificate of Catholic Practice – The guidance also states that schools should only use this certificate for admissions in exceptional circumstances if all Catholic schools in the local area are oversubscribed with Catholic children. Therefore, the requirement for a Certificate of Catholic Practice (CCP) on application has been removed.

The consultation period was for six weeks, from 20 November 2017 to 5 January 2018. The revised policy was available on the Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) website and the school website; it was advertised by ParentMail to the school’s parents, and by email to local parishes and other settings where families may be impacted by the changes.

Responses

The following responses were received during the consultation period:

  • An email from HCC with a number of suggestions to clarify wording of the policy, which do not affect the oversubscription criteria. These have been accepted, subject to review by the Diocese of Westminster.
  • An email from a parent challenging both of the major changes.
  • A petition with 29 signatories of parents challenging the change to the sibling rule.
  • A letter from a local Catholic primary school challenging the removal of the CCP requirement.

Guidance from the Diocese of Westminster

Before addressing the issues raised, it is first necessary to give context to the Governing Board’s decisions by sharing the pertinent sections of the guidance which establish its authority. This is taken from Diocesan Guidance on Admission to Catholic Schools July 2017 (latest version amended December 2017):

The [2014 School Admissions] Code provides, in paragraph 1.38, that admission authorities of schools designated as having a religious character must have regard to guidance from the body or person representing the religion or religious denomination when constructing faith based admission arrangements, to the extent that the guidance complies with the mandatory provisions and guidelines of the Code. It also requires the admission authority to consult the body or person representing the religion or religious denomination when deciding how membership or practice of the faith is to be demonstrated. The body or person who is the representative of the religious denomination for schools designated as Catholic (“the appropriate religious authority”) is the diocesan bishop. This includes all Catholic schools and academies, including those which are within the trusteeship of a religious order.

This guidance is provided by the diocese to support governing bodies in discharging their responsibilities as admission authorities. It provides guidance about the construction of admission arrangements and diocesan requirements in relation to membership and practice of the Catholic faith to which all Catholic school within the diocese must have regard. This document, which is effective from July 2017, replaces all previous guidance issued by the diocesan bishop as the appropriate religious authority for all Catholic schools situated in his diocese. This includes all Catholic maintained schools and Catholic academies, including those within the trusteeship of a religious order.

The bishop expects schools to comply with this guidance unless there are clear and proper local reasons for not doing so. He expects such a position to be the exception, and only to be reached following discussions with diocesan officers.

Sibling Rule

In summary, the points raised by those respondents challenging the changes to the sibling rule were:

  • A core value of the school being a united family will be undermined.
  • Parents were not informed that the oversubscription criteria may change.
  • The new policy should apply to new families, and the current policy should remain for those families with children already at the school.

The guidance contains three paragraphs that explicitly state why our Governing Board must make the change to the sibling rule as contained in the revised policy:

Catholic school governing bodies have an over-riding duty to offer places to Catholics first. This is a requirement of the Trust Deed and therefore a legal requirement on governing bodies. Catholic schools must not operate any policies if the consequence is to offer a place to a non-Catholic and deny that place to a Catholic.

Catholic schools in the diocese are required by the diocesan bishop to give priority to Catholic children, as defined in this guidance, when determining admission criteria. No exceptions will be permitted except where the diocesan bishop has issued a written dispensation.

Governing bodies must therefore ensure that none of their criteria could have the effect of giving non- Catholic children preference over those from Catholic families.

As can be seen, this is a change that the Governing Board must make and, as a consequence, the suggestion for an “old” and “new” sibling rule is not something that can be implemented. That the school has admitted non-Catholic siblings in the past has been raised with the Diocese, and the response was that this is not an exception for which the bishop would grant a dispensation.

The concern that parents were not informed that the oversubscription criteria may change is unfounded. All schools may change their admissions policy from time to time, in line with the admissions code and the requirements for consultation. Even though the Governing Board had no prior plans to make this change, it was foreseeable that the criteria may change in light of changing circumstances – in this case the revised guidance from the diocese.

The Governing Board has long supported the family ethos of the school, and appreciates the challenges that will be faced by families directly affected by this change. In particular, where there are logistical difficulties with drop-off and pick-up of children in different primary schools, the school will work with those families to help with their arrangements, as it always has done.

Certificate of Catholic Practice

In summary, the points raised by those respondents challenging the removal of the CCP requirement were:

  • Having the CCP requirement encourages non-practising Catholics to return to practise at an earlier stage than would otherwise be the case.
  • Children from practising Catholic families will not secure a place at their local primary school.
  • The change will create confusion for parents applying to more than one primary school with different requirements for the CCP, and for non-practising families that later apply for a secondary school place (where CCP is likely to be a requirement for the foreseeable future).

These are valid concerns, and were just some of the many arguments for and against use of the CCP that were discussed at length by the Governing Board before drafting the revised policy.

However the overriding concern is the guidance which, as noted above, the Governing Board must follow. In terms of the CCP, it states:

A higher test than ‘Catholic’ (i.e. that of ‘practising Catholic’) must not be used unless there is an absolute shortage of places in the locality. An absolute shortage of places is not to be confused with oversubscription at a particular school. When there are sufficient places in Catholic schools within the locality for all Catholic children, other criteria should be used to distribute the places available on an equitable basis. In order for the governing body to decide whether it needs to use the test of ‘practising Catholic’, it will need to seek the agreement of the diocese, since the diocese will have the information about the availability of places in Catholic schools in the locality.

The most recent data available (for 2017/18 admissions) shows that aside from St Catherine’s (which admitted a number of non-Catholic siblings owing to the current sibling rule), another local school admitted three non-Catholic children. It is therefore clear that using the only objective measure available, there was not “an absolute shortage of places in the locality” and hence from the guidance the Governing Board is not permitted to use the CCP as a “higher test” than Catholic.

Conclusion

Following careful consideration of the responses received to the consultation and our obligations under the guidance from the Diocese of Westminster, the Governing Board has determined its admission arrangements for 2019/20 will be the policy proposed in November 2017, with the clarifications to wording suggested by HCC.

Admissions Committee

February 2018