Less than one week to my DfE FOI Tribunal



Freedom fighting involves a lot of paperwork

Twenty months ago I asked the DfE for some information about free schools; next week I will be in court for a 2-day hearing. During the hearing, the DfE will appeal a judgement from the Information Commission Office stating that I ought to be given the documents.

What did I ask for that was so controversial? (1) Free School application forms, and (2) Decision letters sent to applicants outlining the reasons for their school’s acceptance or rejection. Until 2010 similar materials were always available to the public. If a local authority opens or applies to expand a maintained school, they still are. Furthermore, when the Information Commission Office reviewed the case he said the law fell ‘very strongly’ in favour of disclosure. Hence, at that point, I thought I had won. But I was wrong.

The process is actually a ‘tribunal’ rather than a ‘trial’ (though the legalese around the process has meant I haven’t always understand the difference). As far as I can work out, on the day, the DfE will have a lawyer, the ICO will have a lawyer, and I will be there to provide information about the specifics of the request and the free schools policy in general. One judge will hear the whole thing, with two other people supporting him [I think they might be some kind of ‘mini-judge’].

The hearing will take place on 4th and 5th June in Court 12 at Field House (15 Breams Building, London, EC4A 1DZ). They start each day at 10am and the public gallery is open from 9.30am. Should anyone fancy popping in over the 2 days, you can do as long as there is room. I have no idea how big the gallery is, but my (somewhat bemused) parents have already booked their London trains and plan to be there. So if you come along and see two rather panicked people throwing daggered looks at anyone giving me a hard time, do go and say hello. We’re also arranging drinks in a nearby pub after the Thursday date (the 5th) and I’ll post some details on that over the weekend.

Update 1: Tribunal room is tiiiny. Unlikely there will be space for people to sit on proceedings. Which feels like a shame.

Update 2: On Thursday, after the case, we’ll be drinking at The Knights Templar, on Chancery Lane, after 4.30pm – come along to say hello and find out how it went. I suspect I shall be there for some time.

Once it’s over, I plan to write more about the process. It is not for the faint-hearted. There have been months of writing court submissions, reading them, responding to them, trying to interpret ‘case management notes’, fearing every time I sent an email that I was doing something wrong, and there’s still the issue of having to stand up in front of a court room and speak. THINK OF THEM AS IF THEY ARE YEAR 9 is my mantra for when it all feels a bit overwhelming.

Still, I’m grateful for the whole experience. I’ve learned a huge amount about the law in this area, and I’m now unafraid to use it, or to help other people use it. Ultimately, I simply asked a question and stuck it out to the end. As I always say to Newly Qualified Teachers: If you’re going to set a detention, be prepared to chase. I just didn’t expect the DfE to be harder to catch than a naughty 12-year-old.


17 thoughts on “Less than one week to my DfE FOI Tribunal

  1. Good luck. You are an inspiration in your determination to uphold our rights and freedoms. Well done.

  2. Hi

    You must look at the consultation report on the Holy Trinity private school to free school conversion in Kidderminster on their website. You will see a letter at the end sent in by myself re how their existing loans as a private school were going to be paid off and whether dfe were doing this. No answer given just smoke and mirrors. I subsequently secured the answer through a FOI which confirmed the DfE were going to buy their land and give it them back for to clear the debts of the private school.

    Scandalous and all kept secret from public during the consultation process.

  3. Well done Linda – good luck as you strike a blow for democracy against the secrecy of the DfE establishment!

  4. I have found that secrecy at the DfE has increased under Gove’s watch. I have had to go to the Information Commissioner on several occasions to overrule a decision. One of the officers at the ICO was clearly very frustrated with the DfE and the number of appeals they were dealing with.

    One has to wonder what it is about “free” schools that the DfE is trying to hide. One of the questions which took me 18 months to get a reply to was “how much money had been given to the failed attempt by the Michaela Community School group to open a school in S. London”? Apparently until they finally moved to N.London this was commercially sensitive. If this doesn’t demonstrate that the “free” school programme is privatisation, what does?

  5. I can’t be there to support you, Laura, but wish you the very best. Your parents should be proud of you – and the education community too!

  6. Thanks for taking this to the end, good luck, wish I could be there to witness and support.

  7. Hi Laura,

    Just wanted to wish you all the best! Well done for standing up in the face of what looks like huge levels of stress. If I was in London, I’d come along and offer my support in person but as I’m not… This virtually shoe of support will have to do!

    Take care!

  8. Good luck Laura! Watching your case with interest

    The same secrecy applies to any companies used by the NHS to deal with pesky complainants whose relatives have inconveniently died under its care.

    So all the NHS has to do is put any ‘difficult’ protective work out to private companies.

    Clever, isn’t it? If they don’t stop you..their contracts are at risk.

    The public will only get it when more stuff NHS is pushed out to private companies and a Mid Staffs or Morecambe Bay deaths scandal arises under privatised care.

    At the moment – even if you get the Ombudsman’s decision in your favour ( I did) …..as you have the ICO’s Decision – any methods used to withhold the medical and clinical notes are secret. And covered by the Information Acts.

    1. I had a similar experience with the NHS. You can eventually get the clinical notes if you are the executor of the will and/or the executors support you. If there is no will then I believe next of kin rules apply. I can put you in touch with a good lawyer for advice if you need it?

      1. Thanks but I was the Executor, eventually got most of the notes via The Access to Health Records Act .. That’s not the problem.

        The problem is that external companies are covered by the Information Acts when they ‘suggest ‘ withholding the medical notes. You cannot read what they have been up to via the Information Acts.

        And there is no way you can prove that notes have been withheld because you cannot prove a negative. So you are prevented from holding health boards to account.

        Here’s a case in which this ‘strategy’ became known …but only via an Enquiry.

        Staffordshire Hospital- extract Daily Mail:

        The former head of legal services at Stafford Hospital , Kate Levy, asked a doctor to suppress details about a patient’s death, in which a senior consultant stated that the death was “avoidable” and that there was a “high probability that the level of care was negligent”.

        But during the Francis Inquiry, which looked into standards of care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, it emerged that Ms Levy did not want his comments to be mentioned in an inquest.

        She wrote two memos to him suggesting the consultant delete the criticism to avoid further distress to Mr Moore-Robinson’s family and “adverse publicity”.

        Kate Levy was an internal employee.

        Private advice companies have total protection from the disclosure that they have instituted any cover-ups.

  9. So sorry I could not make the hearing – got stuck with Y11 maths intervention. Hope all went well.

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