What do the West London Free School and the DfE have to hide?

Amy Lassman's picture
 8
I made a FOI request to the DfE for the Funding Agreement for Toby Young's West London Free School only to be told that:
"The Department holds the information you have requested, but it is being withheld because an exemption under Section 22 of the Act applies.Section 22 provides for information to be exempt from disclosure where the information is held by the Department with a view to its publication by the Department or any other person at some future date...."

I was also told that the department would publish the Funding Agreement on their website at an undisclosed point in the future.

A further point concerns me greatly:
" It is not reasonable for the Government to be expected to release piecemeal information in advance of its planned timetable and planned publication of Funding Agreements, and there is a strong argument in favour of allowing everyone to view this information at the same time. If it were to release this information as requested on varying occasions this would result in partial information being released over a protracted period leading to confusion and inaccuracy."
The Funding Agreement has been approved - does this imply that they plan to make changes?

A lot of smoke and mirrors to hide how £12 million of public funds may be spent.
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Comments

John Fowler's picture
Sun, 03/04/2011 - 21:41

And the Department is a long way behind in publishing funding agreements on its website, and of the few I have looked at, there are missing pages and unsigned documents. The model funding agreement for converters requires a copy to be published on the Academy's website. This appears to be universally ignored.

Billy no Mates's picture
Mon, 04/04/2011 - 08:23

I was told by a reliable source that a draft copy of the funding agreement should be available for consultation prior to conversion. Once it is signed and sealed it is definitely yours – pay deals pensions and all. We need definitive advice on this – please.

Billy no Mates's picture
Mon, 04/04/2011 - 08:59

DfE supporting documents: Draft model funding agreement: Multi model documents - clear as mud...

"We will need to develop different versions of the model to reflect the circumstances of different types of school..."

http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/leadership/typesofschools/academies/...

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 04/04/2011 - 14:18

I followed Billy's link and found even more links to numerous documents with names such as "Selective AREA Annex to Multi Supplemental FA - 21 Feb 11 v 3". On the left of the page there are more links for schools wanting to convert to consider.

And this from a government who says it wants to cut red tape!

Amy Lassman's picture
Mon, 04/04/2011 - 19:05

I've appealed the decision on legal grounds. I'll keep you all up to date.

Fiona Millar's picture
Mon, 04/04/2011 - 19:22

Surely it would be simpler if all free schools published their funding agreements on their websites. If the government is using the model academies funding agreement they shouldn't be too controversial.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 04/04/2011 - 21:30

Given that there is controversy – and as yet little clarification from the DfE – about how much capital funding is being set aside for free schools this year and whether the amount allocated will be diverted away from existing maintained schools, it is surely now crucial for the government to not only publish the funding agreements on the DfE website but also the application and finance plan of the free school applicants?

This would be the clearest way for the DfE to demonstrate that the decision to approve funding agreements was taken after rigorous examination of the original application and financial plan to ensure that the myriad complexities of setting up and running a school long term was fully understood and planned for by the proposers.

Free schools have as much chance of failing as succeeding, so it is essential that tax payers can see that the government has taken great care to ensure that their money is not being gambled away on a project whose foundations were faulty to begin with or where the applicant had not planned every single last detail.

If the DfE were fully confident of the free school application and of their decision to fund, then surely there is no justifiable reason for them to withhold publishing?

Imran Ahmed's picture
Mon, 04/04/2011 - 22:11

The model funding agreement does state, as John mentioned, in Section 61 (g) that to receive any grant monies a free school must publish on its website "its Annual Accounts, Annual Report, Memorandum and Articles of Association, Funding Agreement and a list of the names of the Governors of the Academy Trust."

It seems bizarre but they do appear to designate grants as monies received upon opening:

"Pre-opening costs are paid prior to the Free School opening and are therefore distinct from start-up grant which is only payable once the school has opened."

http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/leadership/typesofschools/freeschool...

As such, they can claim they are abiding with their internal regulations.

There is not an absolute right to withhold information based on Section 22 of the FOIA. Specifically, there are two tests applicable here; (a) the public interest test and (b) a reasonableness test.

Their failure to provide information, I believe, fails both those tests and it will be worth taking this to appeal and then to the Information Commissioner; the DfE has an atrocious reputation under Gove for avoiding scrutiny and withholding critical data from Parliamentarians and the public alike.

So much for transparency, hey, Mr Gove.

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