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Information Commissioner rules DfE was wrong to withhold list of proposed Free Schools from BHA

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ruled that the Department for Education (DfE) was wrong to withhold from the British Humanist Association (BHA) a list of all proposals to establish Free Schools as part of the fourth wave (i.e. opening from September 2014). The BHA has welcomed the ruling.

In January, after a three-way legal battle between the BHA, DfE and ICO, the Information Tribunal ruled that the DfE had to publish a list of all proposals to set up Free Schools as part of the first three years of the programme (i.e. 2011-2013 opening). It did this the following month. However, the DfE subsequently refused to release the same information about the fourth year of the programme. It initially relied on the same reasoning as it had used before (but arguing that this was now stronger as the request came 13 days earlier than the equivalent date in the previous case), and then (in response to an identical request submitted slightly later) argued that the information did not have to be released as it was due for future publication.

In April the BHA complained about this to the ICO, arguing that the previous Tribunal ruling meant that the DfE should have to release the same information in future years. The DfE subsequently released the information in June, but the BHA argued that this was too late, as by this stage it had already decided which proposals it was going to back to open.

By the time the Commissioner came to rule on the case, the DfE decided to no longer contest the grounds upon which it refused to release the information. The Commissioner therefore simply ruled that ‘the Department for Education did not deal with the request in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. The information was not supplied within 20 working days and therefore the Department for Education breached section 10(1).

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘It is important that the public know who is applying to set up schools with public funds, and vital that we have this information before the Government decides which groups it wants to give funding to – the public needs to have input into who is awarded such large sums of public money at a formative stage of the decision-making process, and that is not currently the case.

‘We welcome this ruling as again supporting this principle, although are concerned that the DfE still hasn’t appreciated the need for transparency in this area. We will have to wait and see whether a similar tussle has to happen over the next group of Free School applications.’

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 ruling: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/ICO-ruling-on-fourth-wave-of-Free-School-proposals.pdf

Read the BHA’s complaint: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/BHA-complaint-to-ICO-on-fourth-wave-of-Free-School-proposals.pdf

Read the BHA’s previous press releases:

View the BHA’s spreadsheet of all Free School proposals: http://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/List-of-proposed-Free-Schools.xlsx

Read the full breakdown of proposals for 2014: http://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Number-of-religious-Free-School-proposals-in-2014.pdf

Read the breakdown for 2011-13: http://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Number-of-religious-Free-School-proposals-from-2011-13.pdf

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

View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf

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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