The general public, especially parents near a proposed free school, have a right to know the reasons why a proposed free school was refused. But a reply to a Freedom of Information request
has implications for anyone wanting to discover why free school applications have been rejected by the Department for Education (DfE).
The reply says that disclosure of information about unsuccessful applications would “otherwise prejudice, or be likely to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs”. The decision as to whether disclosure would be prejudicial is made by the Minister.
The DfE acknowledged that there was “a general public interest in disclosure because of the need for there to be open and transparent government”. However, the DfE (ie the Minister) concluded that it is not in the general public interest for details of unsuccessful applications for free schools to be made public because it could attract “unwanted/hostile attention from the media and others.” The Dfe adds, “There is likely to be intense interest in the applications, which could result in the embarrassment, harassment or even ridicule of applicant groups.” The DfE has put a negative spin on legitimate interest in free school proposals and is using this to conceal information about applications.
The DfE says it is concerned that any legitimate interest (painted as hostile) about free school proposals would “restrict the number and quality of future applications.” This is not an adequate defence. Anyone proposal for a free school should be subjected to robust analysis – not just by the DfE helped along by the New Schools Network – but by the public whose money is being spent on these schools.