Dear Kent County Council,

Although the First Tier Tribunal (S v Information Commissioner and the General Register Office [2007] EA2006/0030) determined that FOIA is ‘motive blind’ I feel it would help to explain what I’m trying to achieve with this request for information.

Kent County Council provide a single uniform ‘eleven-plus’ test for all parents seeking a place at one of the county’s grammar schools, but it has come to my attention that the schools in Dover and Folkestone set their own test in addition to this at an annual cost to the taxpayer of £35,735 (2016 figures https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/3...). This year with COVID-19 this will entail bringing together children from different primary schools with the additional public health risk that presents. The only reason I can conceive these schools provide an additional test when the LA already provide one would be to enable them to set an alternative ‘grammar school standard’ required for entry.

The Schools Admissions Code, the legislative framework for schools admissions, mandates the overriding principle that parents should be able to understand how admissions operate. Is the Shepway test harder?
Is it easier?
If so by how much?

The public have a right to know the answer to these questions which can easily be established by comparing the results of those who have taken both tests in previous years. The schools are fully responsible for complying with admissions law. They are accountable for this disbursement of public money and the additional risk to public health from putting on two tests and so in March this year I asked them to provide this information. The responses I received were varied but they all told me that they were unable to discharge their legal obligations relating to information disclosure because they were ‘closed’ until further notice due to COVID-19. I referred them to the Information Commissioner (refs
• IC-46196-H4W9 – Dover Grammar School for Boys
• IC-46198-D0T4 – Dover Grammar School for Girls
• IC-46202-M9H5 – the Harvey Grammar School
• IC-46205-V5N5 – Folkestone Grammar School for Girls)
Following her intervention I have received a response from the first of these, Folkestone Grammar School for Girls. This says the school do not hold the results of the Kent test. That initially came as a surprise but, after consulting a retired schools adjudicator, I now understand that whilst the schools are _responsible_ for admissions the process itself is _administered_ by the LA.

Folkestone Girls explained that the information they do hold includes the Unique Pupil Reference (UPN) linked to individual results. As its name suggests, this is unique to each child raising a question over whether it should be withheld under s.40(1) of the FOIA. The Information Commissioner defines personal data as that which relates to “natural persons who can be identified or who are identifiable, directly from the information in question or who can be indirectly identified from that information in combination with other information.” In order to positively identify an individual from this data requires access to the National Pupil Database which is restricted to researchers through a strict accreditation process with the Office for National Statistics. I have obtained such accreditation (reference number ONSF21316 expires 15/01/2024) but the information in the NPD is very clearly not in the public domain and the UPN is not therefore exempt from disclosure under s.40(1).

Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, I would therefore like to request the anonymised raw and standardised results of children taking the Kent test in 2017, 2018, 2019 to include the UPN in electronic format (CSV, Excel or ODS). If KCC would prefer to provide this information under a legally binding non-disclosure agreement I would consider that a perfectly acceptable alternative, as long as this can be achieved within 20 working days.

Please also advise what information the schools pass from their “Shepway test” to the LA to facilitate the administration of the admissions policies implemented by the schools.

best wishes

James Coombs

 

Information request
Our reference: 16505565

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Dear Mr Coombs
   
Thank you for your email which we received on 17 September 2020.
 
Kent County Council (KCC) acknowledges your request for information, which
we will consider under the relevant legislation (Freedom of Information
Act 2000 and/or Environmental Information Regulations 2004).
 
Assuming KCC holds this information, we will endeavour to supply the data
to you as soon as possible but no later than 15 October 2020 (20 working
days from date of receipt).
 
We will advise you as soon as possible if we do not hold this information
or if there are exemptions to be considered and/or any costs for providing
the information.
 

Although lockdown restrictions are starting to ease, Kent County Council
continues to face unprecedented challenges in delivering front line
services and we are continuing to prioritise our resources in dealing with
the pandemic. We take our statutory duties very seriously, however we ask
for your understanding in the event that we are unable to respond to your
request within the statutory timescale. Thank you for your co-operation in
advance.

 
Please quote our reference - 16505565 in any communication regarding this
particular request.
 

Please see our [1]Information Rights Privacy Notice for details of how we
process your personal data.

Yours sincerely

Mollie Redford
Information Access Officer
 
NOTE: Please do not edit the subject line when replying to this email.

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1 Attachment

 

Information request
Our reference: 16505565

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Dear Mr Coombs
 
Thank you for your request for information received on 17 September 2020.
 
Please find attached our response to your request.
Yours sincerely,
 
 Kelly Leeson 
 Information Access Officer - Information Resilience & Transparency Team 
 
NOTE: Please do not edit the subject line when replying to this email.

Dear Kent County Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Kent County Council's handling of my FOI request 'Kent Test results with UPN'.

Thank you for providing me with details about what information the schools in Dover/Folkestone provide to the council. The information you have provided has been very helpful in understanding how the process operates . I would however like to request that you review your response to the first part of my request relating to the council’s own tests. You refer to “guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office”. Her website contains a lot of guidance. I’ve read most of it. I’ve not come across anything which says any numbers less than five must be redacted. I’d like to know which specific guidance you refer to with a properly cited reference. Her guidance on anonymisation (https://ico.org.uk/media/1061/anonymisat...) states, “Small numbers in small geographical areas present increased risk, but this does not mean that small numbers should always be removed automatically”. You appear to have given me a ‘template’ response without any consideration of the information I’ve actually requested. I’m not asking for scores by Kent district or whether children went to prep school. Why have you based your refusal on information I have not requested?

Under s.17(1) of the FOIA you must provide a refusal notice which “(b)specifies the exemption in question, and (c)states (if that would not otherwise be apparent) why the exemption applies.” You have not actually stated which exemption you rely on but the inclusion of s.40(2) in an appendix leads me to speculate that you rely on this exemption. If so, the correct application of s.40(2) in relation to raw and standardised 11+ test results was thoroughly examined by the First Tier Tribunal in Reading Schools vs Information Commissioner and James Coombs EA/2013/0227. The summary given in the first paragraph states,
“We have decided that information held by the Appellant (“the School”)
regarding the results of its entrance tests had been sufficiently
anonymised that it did not constitute the personal data of those who
took the tests. The information is not therefore capable of falling within
the exemption from disclosure provided by section 40(2) of the
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“FOIA”) (third party personal data
whose disclosure would breach data protection principles) …
We therefore reject the School’s appeal.”

My request varies from the Reading case in just one aspect. I have requested the Unique Pupil Number (UPN) be added to the raw and standardised results. This constitutes pseudo-anonymised data as defined in Article 4(5) of the GDPR. The GDPR considers that pseudo-anonymised is personal data however Article 6(1)(f) provides a basis for disclosing this if, “… necessary for the purposes of legitimate interests pursued by the controller or by the third party …” To identify a data subject from the UPN requires access to the national pupil database which is only accessible at secure research facilities managed by the Office for National Statistics and it could be argued that Article 6(1)(f) is correctly engaged however, having discussed this with the Information Commissioner, I think there are better ways to achieve my objectives than to ask Kent County Council to disclose the UPN. I would therefore like to withdraw my request for the UPN to be included in this data. This will mean that the information is _fully_ anonymised and simplify the task for whoever carries out the review, enabling them to be guided by the precedent laid down by the First Tier Tribunal in Reading v ICO & Coombs. (§§19-27 covers s.40(2) and its application to raw and standardised 11+ test results at great length.)

For the avoidance of doubt, my original request for “the anonymised raw and standardised results of children taking the Kent test in 2017, 2018, 2019” refers to the marks obtained in Verbal Reasoning, Maths and Non-Verbal Reasoning tests. “Raw” marks refers to the number of questions correctly answered, whilst the “standardised” results are those used to determine admissions after they have been age standardised, “to identify the top 25% of the ability range calibrated according to national norms.” (As recorded by the Schools Adjudicator in his determination notice ADA/0000724 in respect of the objection raised by Kent County Council against Dover Grammar School for Boys, 8 July 2005.)

Thanks very much for your assistance.
best wishes
James Coombs

 

Information request
Our reference: 16505565

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Dear Mr Coombs
 
Thank you for your request for a review received on 16 October 2020. I am
sorry that you are dissatisfied with our attempts to handle your request
under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
 
I can confirm that we are considering your concerns and we will aim to
provide you with a response by 13 November 2020.
 

Although lockdown restrictions are starting to ease, Kent County Council
continues to face unprecedented challenges in delivering front line
services and we are continuing to prioritise our resources in dealing with
the pandemic. We take our statutory duties very seriously; however we ask
for your understanding in the event that we are unable to respond to your
request within the statutory timescale. Thank you for your co-operation in
advance.

 
Yours sincerely
 
 
Kelly Leeson
Information Access Officer - Information Resilience & Transparency Team
Strategic and Corporate Services
+443000415985
[email address]
 
NOTE: Please do not edit the subject line when replying to this email.

Kent County Council

1 Attachment

 

Information request
Our reference: 16505565

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Dear Ms Rumball,

Thank you for reviewing the original decision.

I am disappointed that even after pointing out to you that I am not any seeking ANY information about the schools children who sit the Kent test attend, you persist in using this fallacious premise for refusing the actual information I have requested, simply because you have made a mistake in the past.

Kent Council very clearly does not take its statutory duties seriously. Having exhausted the authority's complaints procedure, I have no alternative than to refer this to the Information Commissioner under s.50 of the FOIA which I shall do next week. Hopefully she can point out to you that NOT providing information about which primary schools children attend does not lead to individuals being identified.

Best Wishes
James Coombs