Free Schools, Secrecy and Freedom of Information

Question: Do you have any idea why certain Free School applicants were given funding and approval to open whilst others were not? Of course you don’t. Nobody knows – apart from a small circle of government ministers and their senior officers/advisers.

Is there fairness in ths system? Is there impartiality? Is there corruption? Is there objectivity? Is there ideological prejudice? Nobody knows. In other words, there is no openness, no accountability and no transparency in the system. What we do know is that there have been several scandals concerning the way in which certain Free Schools have been run. Some of the new Free Schools are doing extremely well. Others are not. Some have been told to close already.

Laura McInerney, a teacher and educational researcher who also blogs and tweets, decided that she’d study the applications and vetting process. She therefore asked for some very straightforward, very simple and what she presumed was publicly available information.

This whole saga started 15 months ago, when I submitted what I thought was a simple request for information to the DfE. What explosive material did I want? A surprisingly dry package: the application forms sent in by people applying to run free schools, and the letters later sent back explaining whether or not they were successful. Hardly the Pentagon Papers.

If taxpayer money is being handed out to members of the public, we need the government to be savvy about which groups they back and why.

Yet the DfE rejected my request – twice. Among the reasons given was that releasing the information “would allow opponents of free school applications to attack applications more easily and could undermine local support”. But why shouldn’t the public know about any issues with the applications? It is our money paying for the schools and our children walking into them.

Please read the rest of Laura McInerney’s Guardian article here –
http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jan/07/why-is-government-secretive-about-free-schools

In a nutshell, there was then a request processed through Freedom of Information legislation, to which there was another rejection by the minister, and so there was a subsequent appeal by Ms McInerney which the Information Commissioner’s Office upheld.

The Commissioner considers that the public interest factors in favour of the disclosure of the withheld information are very strong . . . [Disclosure will provide] considerable information about the implementation of a relatively new and very important education policy.”

FOIAnd still the government refuses to supply the requested information. This saga began 15 months ago. A tribunal will now make a final decision on the matter – perhaps in June or July. Or possibly August. Almost two years, and still no guarantee of success after all that time and effort. Two years!

In this country we like to tell ourselves that we live in an open democracy where our government and its policies can be scrutinised and held to account. We even have parliamentary committees that are supposed to carry out this scrutiny. And yet here we have a single individual who has seen the need to carry out some scrutiny and who has been made to feel like a combination of latter-day Erin Brockovich and “a 12 year old trying her best with a history project”. She still won’t be able to complete her project until next summer at the earliest.

In Laura McInerney’s own words,

How can the public be sure ministers weren’t waving through applications from their mates and turning down those whose faces didn’t fit? We can’t. Without the applications being public, there is no way of knowing if the process was corrupt, or not.

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About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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3 Responses to Free Schools, Secrecy and Freedom of Information

  1. Pingback: Free Schools, Secrecy and Freedom of Information | anemone of promise

  2. Thank you for blogging on this – great to have your support.

    Like

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