The Department for Education (DfE) has appealed a ruling by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) which said that it must publish a list of all proposals to establish Free Schools as part of the first two ‘waves’ (i.e. to open in 2011 or 2012), giving their religious character. The ruling was made last month in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by the British Humanist Association (BHA) in June 2011, and will now be considered by a judge at the Information Tribunal. The BHA has asked to become a party to the case.
The BHA’s FOI request on 21 June 2011 was for:
A list of Free School proposals received by the Department for Education, including the 323 received during the first wave and the 281 received during the second wave, giving for each:
- The name of the project
- The local authority/area of the proposed school
- The previous name (if applicable) of the proposed school
- The faith (if any) of the proposed school
- Whether the proposal was received in the first wave or the second wave
After the DfE rejected the request, the BHA appealed to the ICO, which on 4 July 2012 ruled that the DfE must publish the information by 8 August. The DfE was given until 1 August to appeal the case, however requested an extension to this before appealing on 6 August. The ICO will now likely have a month to reply to the appeal, before the case goes to a judge at the First–tier Tribunal (Information Rights).
Separately, the BHA has also now submitted an FOI request asking for the same information, but for the third wave of Free Schools (due to open in September 2013). This request was rejected by the DfE; the BHA has now appealed.
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘It is vitally important that Free School proposals can be properly scrutinised by the public, and this is extremely difficult when we don’t know who they are until they are backed by the Government to open – by which point, it is often too late to stop them.
‘We are not opposed to Free Schools, however about one third of Free Schools are “faith” schools and we do have concerns that some of the additional freedoms these “faith” schools enjoy, such as with the curriculum, over admissions, and in employment policies, lead to increased religious discrimination in state funded schools.’
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.
Read the ICO ruling: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/ico-ruling-fs50415927.pdf
Read the BHA press release, ‘Landmark ruling: Information Commissioner concludes that DfE must publish list of proposals to open Free Schools’, 6 July 2012: https://humanists.uk/news/view/1067
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanists.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.