Is Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School ‘extremely socially segregated’?

Pictured: Education Secretary Gillian Keegan visiting Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, West London. Photo credit: Catholic Church of England and Wales Official Flickr, distributed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

Last week Humanists UK highlighted how Education Secretary Gillian Keegan launched the Government’s plans (which may now be abandoned due to the election) to scrap the 50% cap on faith free school admissions at Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, one of the most socially segregated schools in the country. 

The school later responded in an interview with the Evening Standard, with the head teacher telling the paper ‘we do not recognise this characterisation of our community as socially segregated’. But in his school’s defence, the headteacher made a bunch of claims that, when examined, don’t support his case. So let’s look at this issue a bit closer. 

Lawful admissions process

Our research showed that Cardinal Vaughan had a ‘highly complex admissions arrangements’, which have resulted in a much lower percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals (11.7%) than other mainstream secondary schools in Kensington and Chelsea (33%). Mr Stubbings, head of Cardinal Vaughan, told the Standard the school’s admissions arrangements are published on its website, and look ‘pretty clear to me.’ He went on to say ‘certainly, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) has no problem with them’. The OSA is responsible for making sure schools comply with the School Admissions Code. If they don’t, they’re breaking the law.

But a quick search of the OSA’s reports have found the complete opposite of what Stubbings said. As recently as December 2022, the OSA found the arrangements failed to comply with the Admissions Code in five different places. Nor is this only the time the OSA have found Cardinal Vaughan’s lack of compliance with the Code. They also did so in August 2021. And in 2015 we (through the Fair Admissions Campaign) made a series of objections about the school’s admission arrangements which also led to many code breaches being found. So despite the head claiming the OSA has no problem with Cardinal Vaughan, reports from the OSA show otherwise. 

Complexity of arrangements?

Sticking with admissions and we find that the school’s arrangements themselves are a labyrinthine 20 pages long, and not easy to navigate. On page 2 for example the school states that priority is given to ‘Catholic boys with a Certificate of Catholic Practice’. All fine and well, but what a ‘certificate’ means isn’t explained until eight pages later. It turns out it’s ‘evidence of baptism’ and:

‘issued by the family’s parish priest… [where] the priest is satisfied that at least one Catholic parent or carer (along with the child, if he or she is over seven years old) have (except when it was impossible to do so) attended Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation for at least five years (or, in the case of a child, since the age of seven, if shorter).’

It states that:

‘A Certificate may also be issued by the priest when attendance is interrupted by exceptional circumstances which excuse the obligation to attend on that occasion or occasions. Further details of these circumstances can be found in the guidance issued to priests. Appendix 5 of the Diocesan Guidance on Admission to Catholic Schools.’

But the 52-page guidance only has two appendices. That, by the way, is a mistake that the OSA might find in breach of the Admissions Code (if someone were to complain about it).

Throughout the years of our work in education campaigns we have looked at a lot of admission arrangements. If these aren’t complex, we don’t know what are.

Free school meal eligibility

Moving to the number of Cardinal Vaughan pupils eligible for free school meals. Mr Stubbings said our 11.7% figure for free school meals refers to the school’s large sixth form. He told the Standard that the figure for years 7 to 11 is actually 16.7%.

We don’t see how that can be right. We got the 11.7% figure from the latest copy of the Department for Education publication Schools, pupils, and their characteristics, which relates to January 2023. The head may have more up-to-date figures. But, nonetheless, what can be seen is that it says that 121 pupils of 1,033 are known to be eligible for free school meals. That’s 11.7%. It also says that there are 393 pupils in the sixth form. So apart from the fact that the entry for the school is clearly about the whole school (having pupil numbers for each year group, including 7-11), it’s hard to see how the 121 figure can possibly be just for the sixth form. If it did then the sixth form figure would be 30.7%. So it clearly relates to the school as a whole.

This 11.7% of pupils eligible for free school meals pales in comparison to 33% free school meal eligible pupils in mainstream state secondary schools in Kensington and Chelsea where Cardinal Vaughan is located, and to the 26% in such schools across London. It makes Cardinal Vaughan one of the most socio-economically segregated schools in England. In 2013 a ranking produced by the Fair Admissions Campaign judged the school to be the 22nd most unrepresentative school of its local area in England. Recent research by the Sutton Trust found that faith schools were ‘consistently more socially selective’ than schools without a religious character, with Catholic schools being the least representative of the population and the least likely to cater to disadvantaged children in their catchment areas.

Socially segregated?

Responding to our ‘extremely socially segregated’ label, the head told the Standard:

‘That would come as news to the 73 per cent of pupils who are not White British, to the 41% whose first language is not English, and to the 4.1% of pupils who have Education, Health and Care Plans (as opposed to a national average of 2.%).’ 

An impressive claim on the face of it but, with a bit of research, it’s again found very wanting. A quick look at the figures shows that in January 2023 30% of pupils at Cardinal Vaughan were ‘white British’ compared to 18% of all schools in the borough and 23% across London as a whole. So not so impressive after all. Now let’s look at ‘white of all ethnic subgroups’ and we see that 58% of their pupils are white in total, compared to 37% in the borough and 37% across London as a whole. Again not so impressive, and nor are the figures around ‘English as an additional language’. The 40% who in January 2023 spoke English as an additional language compares to 43% across the borough and 40% in London as a whole, so the figures may sound impressive there but are actually distinctly average. (The Education, Health and Care plan figures are not in Schools, pupils, and their characteristics.)


So, in spite of what the head says, the Schools Adjudicator very much has had problems with Cardinal Vaughan’s admission arrangements; they are in fact highly complex; their free school meal figures are low compared to their area and London; and the ethnicity figures given as supposedly an impressive sign of diversity are the opposite of that. A worrying level of critical thinking and numeracy skills for a school to be demonstrating in the media.

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