The Schools Adjudicator, whose role is to ensure that school admission arrangement are fair and conform to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, has issue a determination in the case of objections to revised admission arrangements at the state-funded Islamian Primary School in Brent. The governing body at the school determines its own admission arrangements.
The case raises important issues regarding class (in the guise of professional status) and race (relating to the Somali population).
The objection by two individuals relates to the criteria applied when the 60 pupil intake school is over-subscribed.
The adjudicator summarises the criteria as:
a. Looked after Muslim children and previously looked after Muslim children.
b. Children of staff.
c. Muslim children of at least one parent who has reverted to Islam (not born in the Islamic faith). Up to a maximum of 25 per cent of the PAN (Planned Admission Number).
d. Muslim children of parents who are former pupils of the school (alumni) since it became a Voluntary Aided school (1998). Up to a maximum of 15 per cent of the PAN.
e. Muslim children who have a sibling at the school.
f. Other Muslim children.
g. Other looked after children or previously looked after children.
h. Other children.
The objectors argument is summarised:
1. Taken together, the objectors argue that newly-introduced oversubscription criteria giving priority to Muslim children of at least one parent who has reverted to Islam and Muslim children of parents who are former pupils of the school (alumni) are in breach of paragraphs 1.9 e) and f) of the School Admissions Code (the Code), which prohibit the giving of priority to children, respectively, on the basis of any practical or financial support parents may give to the school and according to the educational status of parents applying.
2. Both objectors point out that, as a result of the introduction of the new criteria, the priority for children with siblings at the school has become the fifth rather than the third oversubscription criterion. The objectors refer to the “disadvantage” and “hardship” this will create and describe the change as “unfair.” Paragraph 14 of the Code requires admission authorities to ensure that the practices and the criteria used to decide the allocation of school places are fair.
objectors felt that the priority given to alumni was made on the basis of
their ability to give support to the school including financially through
voluntary contributions. One objector said:
“During the [consultation]meeting the panel explained to the parents in attendance that they wished to encourage alumni to come back to the school as they tended to be professionally successful, therefore they could ‘share their skills to drive standards up, hold the school to account and give something back thanks to their professional status.’
The Adjudicator comments:
My task at this stage, though, is not to come to a conclusion about what the true reasons for the new criteria are, but to determine whether those criteria are in breach of the Code. In order to qualify under either of the criteria, parents are not required to make any financial contribution to the school or to give it practical support, or indeed to pledge to do. The governing board may hope that parents may do so, but it is not necessary to gain priority for a place. I therefore do not consider that they are in breach of paragraph 1.9 e).
Similarly, with reference to paragraph 1.9 f), there is not a requirement that parents demonstrate that they are employed in a particular occupation. In order to be considered alumni of the school, parents must, of course, have attended it. I do not regard this as conferring an “educational status”, which I take to relate to educational achievement, including qualifications obtained at school and in further and higher education. I do not uphold the objection on the grounds that the criteria giving priority to the children of alumni and reverts breach paragraph 1.9 of the Code.
The Adjudicator adds on this and the issue of 'reverts' LINK (people who become Muslim as did the original founder of the school Cat Stevens/Yusif Islam):
Whilst it is clear that there is strong disagreement about the appropriateness of the reasons the admission authority has given for giving priority to children of alumni, those reasons could not be described as arbitrary or irrational. With respect to the priority of children of reverts, it is common practice for schools with a religious character to differentiate between adherents of the faith of the school in their admission arrangements, for example, on the basis of for how long or how often they attend a place of worship. It is not unreasonable to take account of when someone became a member of the faith (provided this can be established objectively) and to give their children priority for places at the school as they may need more support than children born into the faith. I therefore consider that these criteria meet the test of reasonableness.
There was a further argument made in correspondence that the Adjudicator termed 'very important':
In her initial objection, this objector argued that the proposed changes “will directly impact families from poorer socio-economic backgrounds.” She develops the argument in subsequent correspondence, explaining that there has been a change in the demographic profile of the school, due to a large number of Somali families being housed in what was previously the catchment area. She says,
“This has translated into a net increase of Somali children and their siblings securing spaces at Islamia due to closeness to the school, being within the catchment area and having sibling priority. l believe these changes are aimed at reducing that through decreased sibling priority.
Moreover, since there are close to no Somali alumni from 20 years ago and traditionally no reverts from Somali heritage these changes will effectively exclude a large portion of parents and directly affect their ability to secure spaces for a second, third or fourth child. I believe these changes are discriminatory and aimed at curbing the access of poorer families from specific ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds usually in need of more spaces.”
The Adjudicator found that the revised arrangements discriminate against siblings and adds a warning (my stress) regarding the above point:
I have found that the arrangements unfairly disadvantage siblings. Although the objector’s arguments appear to me to have some merit, it would be difficult to establish whether the effect of the proposed changes would be specifically to disadvantage the Somali racial group. Indeed, any finding in this matter would not add materially to my conclusion relating to unfairness. I therefore make no further comment, other than to stress the importance of the admission authority’s monitoring of the effect of the arrangements in future years to ensure that they do not run the risk of a successful challenge that they may cause indirect discrimination on the grounds of race. Indirect discrimination occurs when a practice or criterion, which applies to everyone in the same way, has the effect of disadvantaging a group of people who share a protected characteristic listed in the Equality Act 2010. It is a defence against indirect discrimination if the criterion is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
Summary of Findings
1. The consultation conducted by the admission authority prior to the introduction of new criteria prioritising the children of alumni and reverts met requirements. The criteria do not contravene paragraphs 1.9 e) and f) of the Code as they do not give priority to children on the basis of practical or financial support parents may give or on parents’ occupational or educational status. I do not uphold these aspects of the objection.
2. Children of alumni and reverts (up to 40 per cent of the total to be admitted) have a higher priority to siblings, some of whom might not obtain a place. The disadvantage to siblings and their families is not outweighed by the benefits the new criteria bring. The arrangements do not meet the requirements of fairness in paragraph 14 of the Code. In this respect, I uphold the objection.
3. In accordance with section 88H(4) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, I partially uphold the objection to the admission arrangements for September 2021 determined by the governing board for Islamia Primary School, Brent.
4. I have also considered the arrangements in accordance with section 88I(5) and find there are other matters which do not conform with the requirements relating to admission arrangements in the ways set out in this determination.
The Chair of Governors at the school has been contacted for a comment but has not yet responded.
The full report can be found HERE