What’s Next For The Free Schools #FOI Battle?

Yesterday’s response to my Guardian article about battling the DfE to release secret Free School applications was overwhelming and unexpected. Given that I constantly talk up the kindness of people on social media, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was quite something to be inundated with tweets, DMs and emails offering support, encouragement and even funding. It was also quite astonishing to sit and read 200+ positive Guardian comments. Really, it was beyond expectation.

So, what next?

(1)    Offers of support – To the many people who offered their help with the appeal paperwork, thank you deeply. It is useful to know I can ask for your advice on technical definitions and what counts as evidence, etc, etc. However, beyond the admin, the most important thing was that so many people sent supportive messages of any kind. Such engagement exemplifies the ICO’s judgement that this issue matters to the public. Supportive voices also remind politicians that transparency matters and that the public do care about it. The sooner politicians realise that winning at the ballot box is not the end of democratic accountability the better off we will all be.

(2)    Offers of funding for a barrister – While very generous and appreciated, at present the plan is for me to represent myself.  The system is supposedly designed so that a lay person can represent themselves. If self-representation is how it is supposed to go, then it’s important to see how realistic that is. Not everyone who may find themselves in my situation will be in a position to write a national newspaper column and get such kind offers. So I’m currently planning to self-represent because (a) it shouldn’t disadvantage me, and (b) I think it is important the government are forced to see what this is – an appeal against a citizen’s request, and not hide behind a façade of barristers.

(3)    Please don’t ask me about the DfE’s reasons for Appeal – I was criticized yesterday for not talking more about why the DfE does not want to give the information. As proceedings are underway I cannot talk about the reasons for appeal or second guess further judgements. I can only really talk about what has happened up to the point of appeal. It’s a fine rope to walk, and I don’t want to find myself in a situation where 15 months of patience is destroyed because I overstep some ill-defined lines. So, please, forgive me if I am occasionally evasive on details, it will most likely be for this reason.

(4)    Show your love to the real FOI ‘heroes’ – There’s something very satisfying about having a timeline full of people calling you brave. But, really, I ended up in this situation by accident. The real heroes of FOI are the consistent and quiet campaigners, like Rodney Breen and Phil Bradshaw (who wrote on my blogs), and @bainesy1969 and @FOIman (who have tweeted advice & retweeted my cause), the British Humanist Association (who went through a similar rigmarole to get an initial list of free school applicants), the people who run whatdotheyknow.com (a website where you can make FOIs) and a crowd of others who’ve stayed out of the limelight but have been absolutely invaluable. Without experienced people like these giving time to newbies like me, I would never have learned about the FOI Act and its process. As I see it, even if this Tribunal falls apart, I am now able to campaign more effectively across education because of what they taught me. They are seriously important, and the ones who are truly deserving of praise.

Finally, I want to reiterate that I asked for these application forms and decision letters because I want to learn from them, not because I mistrust the government (though they’re really not helping me with this). I am a teacher by trade – it is in me to want to assess, to work out where things went wrong, and give feedback on how it can be better in the future. But we can only do that if the information is available for scrutiny.

Right, thanks again folks for all your continued support. It is time, now, to get back to the paperwork.

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