Predictably, plans by the Welsh Tories to bring back grammar schools have provoked intense debate in recent days. But while none of the major parties have any plans to reintroduce the bastions of selective education on the other side of the River Severn, a Cathedral school in Nottinghamshire has come under fire for acting as if it were a grammar.
While most cathedral schools reside in the independent sector, The Minster School in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, is a voluntary-aided, Church of England school for students aged eight to 18.
It provides choirboys for the spectacular Southwell Minster, and accordingly all of its junior school pupils are selected on the basis of musical aptitude.
But following a complaint made by two parents about its admissions policies, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator has uncovered a host of breaches of the schools admissions code.
Given the shortage of primary places in many parts of the country, one of the adjudicator’s most damning finds was that the school has turned away junior school applicants – even when it has spaces available.
“The school is not a designated grammar school and cannot keep places unfilled where there are applicants for those places and its arrangements must be altered accordingly,” the adjudicator’s ruling said. “The school agreed to change its arrangements and practice so that places would not be kept empty.”
Despite being a mixed school, the adjudicator found The Minster was also “unlawfully reserving some places in the junior department for boys”, in breach of the Equality Act 2010.
The tests it uses for musical aptitude also fell foul of the Admissions Code: “Aspects of the tests used are tests of ability rather than aptitude”, the adjudicator ruled, and places were offered on the condition that pupils “remain in training for, or join the Minster choir”. “This amounts to conditionality, which is prohibited”, the report added.
For admissions in Year 7, the adjudicator ruled that the school asks for “information that is not necessary”, and also found faults with its sixth form selection criteria.
The school declined to comment, but the adjudicator’s report confirmed that “the school was very keen to work to ensure that its arrangements were made compliant”.