13 November 2017, The Tablet

Catholic school forced to remove 'mother' and 'father' from admissions form

Catholic school ordered to revise admission arrangements after complaint about the terms 'mother' and 'father'

Catholic school forced to remove 'mother' and 'father' from admissions form

A Catholic primary school was ordered to revise its admission arrangements after a parent objected that the use of the terms "mother" and "father"  discriminated against separated, step or gay parents.

A parent at the Holy Ghost Catholic Primary School in the Southwark Archdiocese in Wandsworth, London complained that there was only one space on the school's supplementary information form (SIF) for the completion of details of a parent or guardian's attendance at worship and that this was in breach of the School Admissions Code.

Holy Ghost school is oversubscribed. It can admit 30 new pupils each year, but 48 applicants made it their first choice this year. 

Schools adjudicator Peter Goringe says in his adjudication that the parent objected on four grounds. He did not uphold three of these grounds of objection related to the taking of a collection, asking for details of a parent’s pattern of worship and asking the parish priest to endorse the completed form.

But he added: "I do uphold the part of the objection relating to the request on the SIF for the 'mother’s' and 'father’s' 'religion'.

"The oversubscription criteria only require one parent to be a practising Catholic."

In this respect the form was therefore in breach of the code, which prohibits admission authorities from seeking information that is not necessary for them to apply their oversubscription criteria.

Goringe says in the adjudication: "It is unnecessary to seek information about the religion of more than one parent and, in the absence of any clarification of the term 'parent', the use of the words 'mother' and 'father' might, as the objector suggests, be taken to imply that the school is restricting its definition."

He also found that the arrangements give priority to those worshipping at Holy Ghost church, contrary to the diocese’s own guidance. He says he has come to a similar judgment in respect of two neighbouring schools, St Anselm and St Boniface, and determined all three schools should revise this aspect of their admissions arrangements by the end of February next year.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Education Service told The Tablet: “We expect all Catholic schools to comply with the School Admissions Code and we work closely with dioceses and the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) to ensure this happens.  

“In the vast majority of cases where objections to admissions are upheld, it is down to insufficient clarity or poor communication. These are issues which affect all schools, not just those with a religious character.

“Specifically in London, we are seeing increasing cases of Catholic demand outstripping Catholic school supply. This is because for the last seven years the Government has effectively banned the Catholic Church from opening any new Free Schools."

Also this week, the Church of England updated its guidance in challenging "homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying".

In Valuing All God's Children, the church makes 12 recommendations. In one section, it says that throughout primary school, pupils need to be able to play with the many cloaks of identity – sometimes quite literally with the dressing up box.

"Children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision. For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the firefighter’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment. Childhood has a sacred space for creative self-imagining. Childhood needs to be a period where we can make mistakes, try things out, explore projects and identities, without having to be bound by the consequences. "

The guidance continues: "Children should be afforded freedom from the expectation of permanence. They are in a ‘trying on’ stage of life, and not yet adult and so no labels need to be fixed.This should inform the language teachers use when they comment, praise or give instructions. It may be best to avoid labels and assumptions which deem children’s behaviour irregular, abnormal or problematic just because it does not conform to gender stereotypes or today’s play preferences."

In the foreword the Archbishop of Canterbury writes: "Central to Christian theology is the truth that every single one of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us is loved unconditionally by God.We must avoid, at all costs, diminishing the dignity of any individual to a stereotype or a problem. Church of England schools offer a community where everyone is a person known and loved by God, supported to know their intrinsic value." 

(Pic: Children should be able to try out "the many cloaks of identity" without being labelled or bullied, the Church of England has said. Credit: PA file pic)

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