Your 1st place for FoI News
RSS icon Email icon Home icon
  • Angry home schoolers cause problems for FoI officers

    Posted on October 19th, 2009 admin 2 comments

    An interesting letter has emerged through the WhatDoTheyKnow website relating to the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).

    It relates to a concerted campaign of action on behalf of advocates of home education who feel they have been attacked by a report into the subject.

    The report – called the Badman Report – after its author Graham Badman looks into suggestions that home educated children may be more vulnerable to abuse than children who are at school.

    Those of you who look at WhatDoTheyKnow will be aware of a lot of requests sent into local councils asking for sight of the raw material that was supplied to Mr Badman, which was the basis of his report.

    Now a letter from the DCSF to the Information Commissioner’s Office has come to light through a Freedom of Information requests which warns the ICO that the campaign by home education advocates could have a serious effect on the way the department can answer future questions.

    It says it has already received around 80 FoI requests on the topic and feels that in the light of threatening posts on the internet it may have to block information citing S.38 (health and safety).

    Here is the letter.

    Letter to the ICO

    What this does show once again is the power of the internet in enabling pressure groups to exert their power to maximum effect.

    Because in this case a relatively small, and one would have thought reasonably non-militant pressure group, are threatening to derail a Government department’s FoI responses.

    This YouTube video [link] is used as evidence by the DCSF why it may have to impose a S.38 exemption on information.

  • DCSF admits defeat through gritted teeth

    Posted on October 13th, 2009 admin No comments
    Ed Balls - You're a bad loser

    Ed Balls - You're a bad loser

    It would appear to me that the Information Commissioner’s Office under instruction from the new boss is starting to address the issue of outstanding appeals.

    Since the start of the year I have been lodging appeals with the ICO under my new company name DataNews Ltd and hadn’t really expected to hear anything until the start of 2010.

    But it would seem a new tactic has been developed within the ICO in a bit to cut down on the many hours that must be wasted writing those sometimes enormously long decision notices.

    What has happened to me, and I’d be interested to know if the same thing has happened to others, is that I will get an e-mail from the ICO telling me basically who it thinks has won the argument, asking the loser to back down.

    This is a reasonably effective tactic in that if the ‘loser’ is a public authority it is more than likely it will release the information rather than being “named and shamed” on the ICO’s website as having lost a case.

    It is slightly more difficult when the applicant has lost the argument since they are, I would suggest, less likely to just walk away and accept defeat after having gone to the effort of a request, an internal appeal and then an appeal to the ICO.

    One appeal that has caused me some amusement is one from the Department of Children, Schools and Families. I asked for details of exam grades at GCSE broken down by ethnic origin and in particular white boys.

    The DCSF said they had the raw data but had never manipulated it that way and so therefore I wasn’t going to get it. I pointed out to them that even the FoI officer in the bottom stream now knows that if you can provide the data in the way the applicant has asked from the raw data you hold then that is a valid FoI request.

    Eventually the Information Commissioner got involved and this is an extract of his e-mail to me:

    Dear Mr Davis

    I am writing to provide an update about the above case. I can confirm that the public authority has decided to disclose the information to you in relation to what you have indicated you will accept as an informal resolution. Please find a copy of the information and a covering letter addressed to you attached to this email.

    In order to make the best use of his resources, the Information Commissioner will not take up, or continue to investigate, complaints where the complainant has a copy of the requested information. Therefore no further action will be taken in respect of your complaint.

    However, I can assure you that I have made our Enforcement team aware of this case, particularly the very poor approach to determining whether information was held at first instance and in the internal review process.  The Enforcement team will review the case and decide whether to take any action.  This could range from writing to the authority to remind it of its obligations, asking for its policies and procedures regarding request handling to be reviewed, or the serving of a Practice Recommendation or Enforcement Notice. If the Enforcement team chooses not to take any action at this time, it will, at the very least, log the issues raised and monitor any future complaints made to the ICO about this particular public authority.

    Look at the reply that was enclosed from the DCSF! Here is what its says:

    The Department does not hold this information in the form requested, and the processing and manipulation of the information would amount to the creation of new information, which it is not required to undertake under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. However, the Department is happy to provide you with this information outside the terms of the Act by way of informal settlement.

    I’ve attached a copy of the letter [FS50247751 response to Mr Davis final.doc] so you can see for yourself. I call that being a bad loser.

    Below is the newspaper story I wrote with the information the DCSF so reluctantly released.

    Is this the reason they were so reluctant to release the information

    Is this the reason they were so reluctant to release the information