Government fights attempts to publish free school application forms despite ICO concerns – case going to tribunal

Janet Downs's picture
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When researcher and teacher Laura McInerney submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Department of Education (DfE) fifteen months ago asking for details of application papers from free school proposers she expected a prompt response.

She didn’t get it. In fact she’s still waiting as she explains in the Guardian.

When the information wasn’t forthcoming, Laura appealed to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the body which deals with appeals when organisations refuse to release data in response to a FoI request. The ICO ruled:

"The Commissioner considers that the public interest factors in favour of the disclosure of the withheld information are very strong."

So, will the DfE now release the information? The answer is No. Instead it is taking the Information Commissioner and Laura to a tribunal in an attempt to prevent the release of data requested under the FOI Act.

This site has argued for greater transparency in the free school process since its inception:

* Concerns have been raised about evidence of “demand” and whether the DfE is more concerned with quantity than quality.

* We have asked whether the DfE is being careless with public money when it approves free schools in areas where there are surplus places (the National Audit Office found 81% of secondary free schools were in such areas).

* We have been concerned about the identity of organisations behind charitable trusts which run free schools and academies and whether there’s a conflict of interest.

* We have heard stories from concerned parents, governors and heads about how a proposed free school will threaten existing schools and even, in the case of Sulivan, force the closure of a popular, high-performing school.

Free schools are a Government flagship policy. 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.

Laura is appealing against the DfE’s “counterproductive desire for secrecy”. This will be sent to the judge dealing with the First-Tier Tribunal which is hearing the DfE’s case against Laura and the ICO. As no legal aid is available, Laura will be representing herself.

We’ll be watching the outcome with interest.

*The Guardian article is here:
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