Freedom of Information

There was a story in the Guardian yesterday about a researcher and teacher who asked under the freedom of information act for details about the application forms sent in by people applying to run free schools, and the letters later sent back explaining whether or not they were successful.

This is highlighted in a post on the Local Schools Network.

Her request was turned down, and the reason given was that this “would allow opponents of free school applications to attack applications more easily and could undermine local support”.

The researcher Laura McInerny appealed via the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the body which deals with appeals when organisations refuse to release data in response to a FoI request, and the ICO decided there were strong public interest factors in the disclosure of the information.

The Department for Education still refuses to release the information and is taking the Information Commissioner and the researcher to a tribunal in an attempt to prevent the release of data requested under the FOI Act.

The Local Schools Network is concerned about how decisions are made on Free schools and says “It is essential that free schools are only opened where there is a genuine need (not “demand” from a vocal group) and the DfE exercises due diligence when it approves bids”.

The tribunal is expected to take place in the summer.

As Laura McInerny asks; “why shouldn’t the public know about any issues with the applications? It is our money paying for the schools and our children walking into them”.

Many people will be affected for many years to come by the opening of free schools, especially where existing schools may be under threat, as has been reported here in Stroud.

Some local families who fancy sending their children to a school that looks attractive, but about the foundations of which they know very little, should not be allowed to influence education in a town of this size without a proper amount of scrutiny applied to the process.

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4 comments

  1. Helen

    A letter to “Stroud Life” today asks what’s wrong with Steiner schools and says that parents should have a choice about where to send their children to school. He also says that one of the Secondary Heads who needs more money to replace temporary buildings should stop using them and reduce the school roll to solve the problem.
    So there is at least one local person who hasn’t read this blog ( :-)) and he also cannot be aware that the school in question is outstanding in its reputation in the area, despite having no sixth form and operating alongside two grammar schools in the town.
    If the result of the Steiner school opening would be a reduction in the numbers at Thomas Keble, this would indeed be a shocking outcome.

  2. eyesbeingopened

    If access to information allows opponents of the schools to attack them more easily, especially where there is no ‘need’ then I think that’s a good thing. They should have to justify themselves properly if it may take children out of local schools, ultimately leading to job losses in those schools. The creation of jobs elsewhere is not a justification if you are a teacher who has lost their job and has no interest in teaching at the new Steiner school.

    • Helen

      Very true. For many parents and teachers, the Steiner school would simply not be an option. It has no appeal whatsoever for a large section of the population, so “choice” becomes even more limited.

  3. Jim

    Unfortunately this is much wider than just a Steiner school issue. Recent governments, but this one in particular, have spoken a lot about ‘localisation’ and pushing decision making down to local people. In practise what they actually mean is cutting away local and regional powers which could take a broader view of local needs and effectively act upon them. This leaves relatively powerless local groups and corporate interests with the real power to decide residing in central government. We see this not just in education but also in health and planning. It is quite deliberate and cynical and Gove’s refusal to comply with the FOI ruling is just the latest example. Elsewhere it is seen in the conversion of what used to be public to the private sector and thus subject to commercial confidentiality.

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