Drawing up the proposed national curriculum for History

Gwrthodwyd y cais gan Department for Education.

Katherine Edwards

Dear Department for Education,

I would like to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act for all information, in whatever form, held by the Department for Education relating to the project to reform the national curriculum in respect of the study of HISTORY as follows:

- All analysis, in whatever form, of the information submitted to the Department in relation to its proposed reforms (whether in anticipation of the consultation stage proposals or subsequently);
- All information considered by the Secretary of State’s expert advisory panel on the national curriculum and by any other body constituted for a similar purpose;
- All agendas, minutes, notes of meetings and the like of the Secretary of State’s expert advisory panel and of any other body or meeting constituted or convened for the purpose of considering reform to the national curriculum;
- All submissions (Ministerial or otherwise), minutes, notes of meetings, reports etc. concerning the Department’s proposed reforms;
- All correspondence between the Department, its Ministers, officials, other advisers and others in relation to the proposed reforms (whether in anticipation of the consultation stage proposals or subsequently);
- All correspondence concerning the constitution and operation of the expert advisory body, and any other like body or meeting constituted or convened for the purpose of considering reform of the national curriculum.

Yours faithfully,

Katherine Edwards

Department for Education

Dear Ms Edwards

Thank you for your recent enquiry. A reply will be sent to you as soon as possible. For information the departmental standard for correspondence received is that responses should be sent within 20 working days as you are requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2013/0016606.

Thank you

Department for Education
Public Communications Unit
Tel: 0370 000 2288

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Department for Education

Dear Ms Edwards,
Thank you for your request of 10 March under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”) in which you ask for
information about the proposed National Curriculum for History, specifically:

- All analysis, in whatever form, of the information submitted to the Department in relation to its proposed reforms
(whether in anticipation of the consultation stage proposals or subsequently);

- All information considered by the Secretary of State’s expert advisory panel on the national curriculum and by any
other body constituted for a similar purpose;

- All agendas, minutes, notes of meetings and the like of the Secretary of State’s expert advisory panel and of any
other body or meeting constituted or convened for the purpose of considering reform to the national curriculum;

- All submissions (Ministerial or otherwise), minutes, notes of meetings, reports etc. concerning the Department’s
proposed reforms;

- All correspondence between the Department, its Ministers, officials, other advisers and others in relation to the
proposed reforms (whether in anticipation of the consultation stage proposals or subsequently);

- All correspondence concerning the constitution and operation of the expert advisory body, and any other like body or
meeting constituted or convened for the purpose of considering reform of the national curriculum.

I can confirm that a number of meetings have been held with a range of individuals from the history sector to share
views and discuss possible content of the curriculum.  As the purpose of these meetings and discussions was solely
related to the development of government policy, we consider that any minutes or notes of such meetings should be
withheld under section 35 provision of the Act, which covers information which relates to the formulation or development
of government policy. You also ask for all analysis of the information submitted to the Department, information
considered, submissions, reports and correspondence.  As these also relate to the development of government policy, we
also consider these to be exempt under section 35.

This provision allows for information to be withheld in certain instances, including where Ministers and officials need
to consider various options at an early stage of policy formulation away from the public gaze.  The purpose of this
exemption is to allow for suggestions to be made and considered, which might not be made if options were to be exposed
to the public.

The exemption in section 35 is subject to the public interest test, which means that when the exemption is engaged it is
necessary to consider whether in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in withholding the information
outweighs the public interest in disclosure. In balancing the public interest, the Department has taken into account
that considerations for disclosure add up to an argument that more openness about the process may lead to better quality
policy formulation and development, greater accountability, an improved standard of public debate, and improved trust. 

Conversely, it is in the public interest that the formulation of government policy and government decision-making can
proceed in the self-contained space needed to ensure that it is done well.  Good government depends on good
decision-making and this needs to be based on the best advice available and a full consideration of the options. 
Without protecting the thinking space and the ability for Ministers and senior officials to receive free and frank
advice, there is likely to be a corrosive effect on the conduct of good government, with a risk that decision-making
will become poorer and will be recorded inadequately.

In this particular case, the development of the draft programmes of study for history was an ongoing process over a
period of many months, with drafts being refined over time to reflect consideration of research evidence and discussion
with both subject experts and Ministers.  We believe that there would have been less free and frank discussion of
options if it had been anticipated that the record of these discussions would be published.  In addition, the draft
programmes of study have now been published in draft for full public consultation, meaning that the next stage of
development before the new curriculum is finalised will be more open.  On balance it is therefore the Department's view
that the public interest in non-disclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure.  

The information we have been able to publish is available on the Department’s website.  This includes the published
report of the Call for Evidence responses, available at the following link:
 
[1]https://www.education.gov.uk/publication...

and the terms of reference for the Expert Panel and Advisory Committee:

[2]https://www.education.gov.uk/schools/tea....

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any
future communications.

If you are unhappy with the way your request has been handled, you should make a complaint to the Department by writing
to me within two calendar months of the date of this letter.  Your complaint will be considered by an independent review
panel, who were not involved in the original consideration of your request. 

If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint to the Department, you may then contact the Information
Commissioner’s Office.
Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2013/0016606. If you need to respond to us, please visit:
[3]www.education.gov.uk/contactus, and quote your reference number.

Yours sincerely,

Elaine Schollar
National Curriculum Review Division
[email address]
[4]www.education.gov.uk

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Communications via the GSi may be automatically logged, monitored and/or
recorded for legal purposes.

References

Visible links
1. https://www.education.gov.uk/publication...
2. https://www.education.gov.uk/schools/tea...
3. http://www.education.gov.uk/contactus
4. http://www.education.gov.uk/

Katherine Edwards

Dear Department for Education,

I am disappointed that you have been unable to reveal any of the information I sought and that it took so long for you to cut and paste generic information which is already in the public domain. Significantly, you waited until the last week of the public consultation period on the reform of the National Curriculum to do this.

I do not accept your public interest rationale for this refusal. Given the number of organisations which have publically stated that their advice on the history curriculum was ignored by the government, is it not in the interests of the public to know whether government takes any meaningful account of expert opinion in formulating policy?

The National Curriculum is of crucial importance in shaping public attitudes and many people have raised very significant concerns about how the draft history curriculum handles equality issues. For example, it utterly disregards the Macpherson Report's recommendations on challenging racism through the education system. Given the marginalisation of non white ethnic groups and women in the new history curriculum, it is very much in the public interest, for example, to know how the government set about complying with its legal obligations in the form of its equality impact assessment when devising it. The public must be reassured that the comments offered in the current public consultation phase on the curriculum will not be treated with the same disregard that many believe was the case with the advice given by the experts.

I have no hesitation in requesting an internal review.

Yours faithfully,

Katherine Edwards

Department for Education

Dear Ms Edwards,

 

Further to your email of 9 April requesting an internal review of the way
your freedom of information request was handled, I can advise that the
review is in hand and I will be writing to you shortly.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Elaine Schollar

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Communications via the GSi may be automatically logged, monitored and/or
recorded for legal purposes.

Department for Education

Dear Ms Edwards,
I refer to your request of 9 April, for an internal review of my reply to
your FoI request of 10 March regarding the national curriculum for
history. You are unconvinced that, in the case of your request, the public
interest in non-disclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure. 

I hope you will accept my apologies for the delay in replying, but I can
advise that the Department has now completed its internal review process
and has carried out a thorough review of the case, chaired by a senior
officer who was not involved with the original request.

Whilst  it remains the case that the material requested relates to the
development of government policy, and hence is subject to being withheld
under section 35 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the panel
concluded that the volume and scope of your request should first have been
subject to cost threshold analysis.  These conclusions were due to the
broad ranging scope of your request which they felt included a vast amount
of material which would require extensive and therefore unreasonable
amount of searching across the Department. The Department estimates that
the cost of complying with your request would greatly exceed the cost
threshold applicable to central Government. This is £600 and represents
the estimated cost of one person spending 3½ working days locating,
retrieving and extracting the information.

If you were to make a new request for a narrower category of information
or limit the scope of your request, the Department will consider this
afresh and may be able to comply with your request within the cost limit. 
As indicated above, however, the Department would need to consider whether
section 35 was engaged and, if so, the public interest test that it is
subject to. 

If you are unhappy with this decision, you have the right to appeal
directly to the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner can
be contacted at:

The Case Reception Unit, Customer Service Team, Information Commissioner’s
Office,  Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF

Further information about the Information Commissioner’s complaints
procedure can be found on the Information Commissioner’s Office website:

[1]http://www.ico.gov.uk/complaints/freedom...

 
Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2013/0023724. If
you need to respond to us, please visit:
[2]www.education.gov.uk/contactus, and quote your reference number.

Yours sincerely,

Elaine Schollar
National Curriculum Review Division
[email address]
[3]www.education.gov.uk

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Communications via the GSi may be automatically logged, monitored and/or
recorded for legal purposes.

References

Visible links
1. http://www.ico.gov.uk/complaints/freedom...
2. http://www.education.gov.uk/contactus
3. http://www.education.gov.uk/

Katherine Edwards

Dear Department for Education,

I am not satisfied with the outcome of the internal review for the following reasons:

1. The nature of the subject matter means that section 35 cannot properly apply. There is nothing inherently confidential about the debate around the content of the national curriculum for history. The drawing up of the history curriculum is the subject of constant and transparent public debate with widely differing views aired through media and specialist organisations. It is very much in the public interest to know whether policy making in an area as significant as a school curriculum is taking place in genuine consultation with expert opinion and with proper regard for obligations such as equality impact.

2. It seems clear that no documents have in fact been considered by DfE, given that the excessive cost exemption has only been raised at the review stage. In the circumstances it seems that the initial decision to refuse on the basis of section 35 cannot have been taken by reference to the information held, seeing that the DfE is now claiming that even to obtain the information in principle would be too expensive.

3. No guidance has been provided in order to allow me to understand which aspect of my request caused it to go over the cost limit. This contravenes clear ICO guidance.

4. I can have no confidence that an internal review has genuinely taken place as the letter informing me of the outcome of the review is written by the same individual who wrote the initial refusal letter, and fails to name any other officials who have been involved in the process.

I will be raising these issues with the Information Commissioner.

Yours faithfully,

Katherine Edwards

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