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Government refuses to release ‘fourth wave’ of Free School proposals to BHA

The Government has refused a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by the British Humanist Association (BHA) asking for the names, locations, and faith (if any) of proposals to open Free Schools as part of the ‘fourth wave’ of applications, due to open from September 2014. The proposals are currently being considered by the Department for Education (DfE) after being submitted in early January. The request was refused because it was made thirteen working days earlier than a comparable request originally made in 2011 where the Tribunal this year forced the DfE to release the information. The BHA will be challenging the decision.

The DfE has refused to release the information because it considers that the information should be exempt under a section of the Freedom of Information Act because its release is likely to ‘prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs’. This exemption comes with a public interest test, and the DfE considers that the public interest is against disclosure. The reasons it gives for this are all the same reasons it gave for withholding from the BHA a list of applicants in the first and second waves of Free School proposals, after the BHA made a similar request for that information in June 2011. However, the Information Tribunal ruled in January this year that the Government had got the balance of public interest wrong, and the DfE was forced to release the information to the BHA last month.

However, the DfE argue that the Tribunal’s ruling does not set a precedent in this case, because this time the FOI request came thirteen working days closer to the end of the applications window. The DfE says that this ‘gives rise to new and stronger public interest arguments in favour of withholding the information.’

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘The Government’s rejection of this Freedom of Information request is ridiculous. It is true that this time we requested the information slightly closer to the end of the applications window. But this difference is incredibly slight and therefore it seems to me the Government are wrong to determine the public interest lies against disclosure.

‘There was no indication in the Tribunal or Commissioner’s decisions that the public interest would be much stronger if the request had been made very slightly earlier; indeed, the Tribunal and Commissioner’s decisions were very strongly in favour of release of the information.’

The BHA has asked for an internal appeal of the decision, and has also submitted a fresh FOI request for the information, now that the date is further away from the end of the applications window than the 2011 request was.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072 or at richy@humanism.org.uk.

Read the previous BHA press release, ‘Government releases list of proposed Free Schools to BHA’, 19 February 2013: http://humanism.org.uk/2013/02/19/government-releases-list-of-proposed-free-schools-to-bha/

Read the previous BHA press release, ‘Landmark Freedom of Information victory for BHA vs Department for Education’, 15 January 2013: http://humanism.org.uk/2013/01/15/landmark-freedom-of-information-victory-for-bha-vs-department-for-education/

See the list of proposals from waves 1-3: http://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/List-of-proposed-Free-Schools.xlsx

Read the Information Tribunal’s decision: http://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/20130115-Decision-EA20120136-0166-0167.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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