Spurred on by many helpful commentors and FoI people on Twitter I have just sent a request for an internal review of the DfE’s decision to turn down my request for the sharing of redacted Free School applicants’ proposal forms and acceptance/rejection letters. (I’ve blogged previously on the content of my original request and their reasons for rejecting).
There appear to be several flaws in their original argument however I have tried to stick to just a few of the key ones for which I think they need to provide better evidence. Here is what my request says:
Dear Department for Education,
With regard to the decision above I would like to request an
Though I do not need to give grounds for asking for the review the following might be helpful in ensuring you understand my reasons for the request.
Though the issue of prejudice has been qualified the matter of ‘public interest’ is only cursorily dealt with and I am not
convinced an adequate consideration was given to the matter of public interest as it is more broadly defined.
Public interest can include:
1. That open policy making may lead to increased trust and
engagement between citizens and government.
2. The desirability of citizens being confident that decisions are taken on the basis of the best available information.
3. That the information would expose wrongdoing on the part of government.
Without the release of information regarding the application and decision-making process for Free Schools, I do not see how citizens can be confident of (a) how the decision is being made, nor (b) if the decisions are being made consistently and fairly. At present there is no opportunity to expose wrongdoing in this process nor to find out which information is being considered and how. Therefore
the ‘public interest’ is not just about engagement and transparency here but also about ensuring the scrutiny of a process.
Secondly, while the argument that the DfE would not wish to ‘discourage’ applicants appears reasonable I would like to ask for the evidence showing that if redacted materials were released people would (a) be less likely to apply, and (b) would be less innovative. Given that before Free Schools new school consultations and competitions were party to public scrutiny, and yet those schools managed to proceed, I feel it important to understand what evidence is now available that shows openness to now be an impediment to the process. Furthermore, if Free Schools are ‘innovative’ then necessarily the successful application forms will be very different to one another and in my estimation this would mean future applicants would instead be encouraged to continue this diversity. I would like to see the evidence that supports the opposite viewpoint that such openness would stifle innovation.
Thirdly, applications and reasons for acceptance and review are, I believe, passed to the New Schools Network who then advise future potential applicants (this was referred to in the 2010 Information Commisioner’s review of an FOI request for NSN/DfE correspondence). If true, I do not understand how this sits with the idea that releasing applications more widely will run a ‘risk’ of copying but when passed through NSN it does not.
Finally, while I completely understand concerns regarding
embarrassment and targeting of applicants I would remind the internal reviewer that the request was for materials where the names of schools and their leaders would be redacted.
A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is
available on the Internet at this address:
I look forward to receiving either the materials as requested or a more complete explanation of the reasons for withholding.