FoIA Request from DfE on Rivendale Free School

Tracy Hannigan's picture
I am still waiting for four out of five of our local Council FoIA requests on issues related to Rivendale Free School, but yesterday the Free Schools group at the DfE sent a response to one of our Freedom of Information Act requests.

I'm quite pressed for time at the moment but wanted to put it out there for those who were waiting for it. It is not surprising!

Rivendale got into hot water for touting around before the Academies Act was even passed. The 70 expresssions of interest (evidence) for Rivendale's proposal were collected at this time - July 2010. This goes back to the validity of evidence - how could people have possibly known what they were signing up to? Interesting was the reference for '100 places' as I had read elsewhere they originally intended to open a two form primary in this area. The most suitable facility they could find since then was too small for 30, and they are now in the new process (apparently) to open a 20 pupil place per year group school at that location.

And another quick point: the language and tone of the rest of the letter, probably a stock response. Thinking must apparently be self contained in order to be done well, and that if such information were released it may impede Free School development. They want to preserve honest deliberating to protect the robustness of decision making - but don't want to be questioned on the basis of those decisions. In my quick assessment, that is how I see it. From what we've seen recently, they could use a bit of input into how they come to decisions!
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 30/03/2011 - 09:57

The second part of their response to your FoI request, could almost be an 'automated' response to most inquiries: "Turning to the part of your request we are handling under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act concerning the reports and minutes, the Department holds some of the information you have requested, but is withholding it because it is exempt from disclosure under section 36 of the Act. Section 36(2) of the Act exempts from disclosure information which, in the reasonable opinion of the ‘qualified person’ (a Minister in the case of the Department), would be likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of advice (section 36 (2)(b)(i)) or the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation (section 36(2)(b)(ii)), or would otherwise be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs (section 36(2)(c))."

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 30/03/2011 - 12:31

The response is laughable in its use of bureaucratic waffle. I particularly liked:

"Good government depends on good decision making and evaluation and this needs to be based on the best advice available and a full consideration of the options. "

Is this really the same government that ignores professionals (on education, NHS and so on) in favour of its own pet hunches? The same government that railroaded the Academies Bill through Parliament with the speed normally reserved for terrorist legislation?

And then there was this:

"Without protecting the thinking space and the ability for Ministers and senior officials to receive free and frank advice, there is likely to be a corrosive effect on the conduct of good government, with a risk that decision making will become poorer and will be recorded inadequately. "

Thinking space! Ha, ha, ha, ha. Decision making getting poorer! Can it get any poorer? Ministers wanting to get free and frank advice! More like keeping things hidden to avoid awkward questions.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Wed, 30/03/2011 - 17:28

Yes 'thinking space' was good, as was the allusion to perhaps things being recorded inaccurately if things like this could get into the public eye. To protect the honest deliberations which inform decision making of course.

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