Transparency in Free Schools and Academies - background

Francis Gilbert's picture
 1
At the moment, there’s a great deal we don’t know about free schools and academies that we should. The Department for Education is now publishing budgets for all maintained schools. Governing body minutes and papers, including budget figures, in those schools are publicly available. The appointments of staff in these schools is also a matter of public record as well as any contracts that the schools may have with private companies.

Worryingly, this is simply not the case for academies and free schools. Their budgets are not published publicly as a matter of course; appointment of staff and the contracting of services is often not "transparent"; and issues connected with the curriculum are not a matter of public record with academies and free schools able to hide the fact that they are studying subjects not on the National Curriculum. This lack of transparency has a number of worrying implications.

A few of them are:


  1. Budgets are not properly scrutinised making corruption much easier.

  2. Appointment of staff are secretive paving the way for nepotism and cronyism

  3. Contracts with private companies are not properly put out “to tender” – thus destroying an important “competitive” principle.

  4. Curricula are imposed on the whim of an individual or special interest group and can’t be contested by parents.



What should you do if you are concerned about this?


  • Write to your local MP if the school is in your area.

  • Draw together a group of concerned community members and contact the press as a group.

  • The Anti-Academies Alliance was set up to campaign about these issues and may be worth contacting.

  • Contact the local and national press and inform them of your worries.

  • Put in a Freedom of Information request by contacting the Department for Education (click here to access contact form) and ask for the details you need to know: make sure you tick Freedom of Information box.

  • Discuss your worries on relevant websites such as this one, Mumsnet, the TES, the Guardian Education.

  • Contact the school directly and ask them to provide them with the relevant information. If they refuse to provide it, ask them why and publicise their lack of transparency.

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Comments

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 16/05/2011 - 08:53

Last September Cameron boasted: "For too long those in power made decisions behind closed doors, released information behind a veil of jargon and denied people the power to hold them to account. This coalition is driving a wrecking ball through that culture – and it's called transparency."

The government's reputation for transparency is in tatters but there are signs that more and more people are interested to see them held to account. The Observer reported yesterday that
The Information Commissioner's Office, which is responsible for enforcing the Freedom of Information Act, has issued a demand over its repeated failure to disclose details of refurbishment work being carried out at the Downing Street flat where the prime minister and his family now live. The commissioner's office has taken the unusual step of issuing an order which gives public bodies 30 days to respond to its request. If the government fails to comply, it could be found in contempt of court. The order is dated 7 April and the deadline for responding has passed.

I recall a few previous posts here from people who had put in a FoI request about funding agreements for Free Schools but these were rejected by the DfE. However, 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.

Since these requests ARE in the public interest AND are reasonable, I hope that people will now be taking their complaints to the The Information Commissioner's Office

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