A top secondary school has been called "unreasonable and unlawful" by the chief ombudsman in breaking its own enrolment policy when declining a place for an autistic boy.

Sacred Heart College in Glendowie initially cited "high numbers of applicants" when it declined to enrol the 10-year-old boy after his initial interview in May last year.

But after a complaint to the Ombudsman and an Official Information Act request by the boy's father, Robert Jones, it was found the school had given many students of "lower priority" places ahead of the boy.

The school then changed its explanation and said the boy wasn't offered a place because he "wasn't Catholic enough".


Both claims have been found to be unreasonable and contrary to the law by Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier.

"Sacred Heart appears to have had a genuine belief that there was a discretion to decline
enrolments, which I presume may have been exercised on other occasions," Boshier said.

"However, Sacred Heart's published enrolment scheme does not provide for the exercise of discretion in enrolments and it is specifically the role of the Catholic Church to verify the applicant's religious faith."

Sacred Heart Board of Trustees deputy chair Brendon Gibson said the school held a understanding that the principal had final discretion over the enrolment of future students.

"This genuine mistake will be remedied, with the school showing a willingness to listen when challenged."

"The Board of Trustees regrets that anguish may have been caused, accepts the need for compassion when dealing with such important family decisions," he said.

The school was also found to have unlawfully charged an "enrolment contribution" of $100. The school had added the charge to a checklist on the enrolment form.

It is the fourth complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman about Sacred Heart College in recent times. The other three complaints were about alleged bullying at the school.


Jones said he was fuming after the initial 2018 interview at the school he attended 35 years ago.

Sacred Heart College in Glendowie. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Sacred Heart College in Glendowie. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"The pre-enrolment interview was just awful from the start but as soon as we said our son was autistic the woman interviewing said, 'oh well we won't accept him then'.

"The learning support teacher in the room quickly jumped in and said that wasn't the case and took over the interview, then ended it pretty quickly."

When Jones complained to the school about comments made in the interview, he was told despite, his son being a "priority 6", there was no space.

"Being the son of an Old Boy does not guarantee direct entry. We understand this is disappointing," the board said in a letter to Jones.

But paperwork released under the Official Information Act showed the school had accepted at least 25 boys of a lower priority than the boy - including 13 priority 8 boys and two boys at priority 11.

The two pupils at priority 11 were boys with no link to the Catholic faith. They were given places over Jones' son despite him being baptised and having a preference certificate from a priest.

The Ombudsman stated this was contrary to the Education Act which states: "The children of parents who have a particular or general philosophical or religious connection with a State integrated school must be preferred to other children for enrolment at the school."

Jones also used the Official Information Act to force the school to release interview notes that said his son "lacked manners" and had no sports or music interests despite him playing soccer for three years and being in a choir.

"It's obvious they have boys they want for various reasons so they cherry-pick them and have to get rid of others who don't fit with what they want," Jones said.

"It is elitist and it is at the heart of everything."

Sacred Heart College has apologised to Jones and has since offered his son a place at the school. Jones said he had yet to decide whether to accept the offer.

It is the second Ombudsman's decision against the school in the past two weeks and the fourth in two years.

Last week, the Weekend Herald revealed the school had been slammed by the Chief Ombudsman over three bullying complaints which had "taken a toll on the health of a student."

In one case, the physical and emotional bullying of an 11-year-old boy was so prolonged and regular he left the school diagnosed with severe anxiety.