Plans for administration of the Weald of Kent grammar school using an annexe in Sevenoaks
Dear Department for Education,
I would like to make a Freedom of Information request for information and plans used to assess the proposal for operating the Weald of Kent grammar school using a second annexe site in Sevenoaks. I believe that such a proposal must have been provided either to your department or to Nicky Morgan (either prepared by the school or Kent County Council) with plans detailed so that you could assess the legality and viability of operating the school using two sites.
We would expect the plans you hold to detail plans for transport between the two sites, staffing arrangements, number of pupils travelling to make use of facilities, and other details designed to make this a workable arrangement for the school. If financial or other details can not be provided please send the documents with confidential sections obscured.
Dear Department for Education,
I just wanted to check that you had received this request? I noted that there is an acknowledgement message in most cases and hope this reached you. Thank you.
Please find attached a letter regarding your recent request for
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Dear Department for Education,
Thank you for your response, we are glad that you are considering this request seriously and respect that you need to take time to consider the public interest test.
I do understand that legal notes must be protected, but would point out that we would also welcome the release of plans provided to brief the lawyers, or any ministerial responses given regarding this legal advice.
We hope that you will consider the many clear benefits to the public in releasing this information.
This was a landmark case that received significant public attention and led others exploring similar plans. Many councils and campaign groups are now spending time and resources considering similar plans. A recent Schools Week article listed 10 known plans. These groups, schools and local authorities do so speculating on the details of this case, as they consider what may be required for their own school expansions. The facts and circumstances of this case will guide their thinking and benefit them greatly.
Transparency will also greatly reassure the public that the plan that was announced on October 19th had clear details and terms set, and could not be changed in ways that do not now comply with the law. It is concerning that we have been told by KCC that the plan needs 'Further work involving cooperation between KCC, the School and the Department for Education' and also that there are, 'Challenging discussions about areas set out in the current plans where further detailed work on delivery is required.' We feel proof that there is a clear plan and/or terms for a plan set out might show the operation of the annexe as a legal fit for one school. Failure to reveal this plan suggests that it might now be subject to negotiation. The public confidence in a legally fit school annexe is best served if the plan is revealed, to show that this is not a flexible situation where KCC or the school might now take advantage of a legal ruling and 'move the goalposts' to change this agreed plan.
Transparency is also vital to reassure the people of Sevenoaks that the school they petitioned for is actually a school they would wish to send their children to. The travel elements in particular have been much debated in the local press and are a concern to many parents. If the annexe plan involves significant travel between school sites many parents would object, this is because they asked for this school specifically to solve travel problems for their children. The sooner such plans are revealed the better, to allow the people of Sevenoaks good opportunity to make their views known if the plan approved by law differs from the plan they were consulted on, or expected.
Here in Kent many people have come together because of this case, a new group has formed to highlight the inequality of academic selection eg. the fact the Weald of Kent grammar school has 0% of pupils receiving Free School Meals. We have little opportunity to change the education system in our county, but we support current government policy that no new selective schools should be built. There are many other campaign groups in selective counties, and groups nationally too, and all are seeking advice on the potential for this decision to contravene current law on selective education. Transparency with these plans would reassure groups and concerned people that this is not a change of government policy without democratic debate. A plan that shows this grammar school can operate as one school will prove that the government is exacting in implementing it's laws about academic selection.
This was also, clearly, a difficult to decide case. This decision took the Secretary of State many months, and the initial proposal was at first turned down. Transparency could show that the decision was based on a thorough study of many factors and a strong and detailed case. The Education Secretary said this was a "genuine expansion" and, "one school, two sites" and it "does not reflect a change in this government's position on selective schools". Transparency will prove these statements better than anything.
In conclusion, the public interest is best served by releasing details of the school expansion because it will show many members of the public who fear the return of academic selection that this is a legal and appropriate expansion of one school. It will also show the people of Sevenoaks and Tonbridge that this school annexe is fit for purpose, and that the legal requirements did not change the nature of the school they were consulted on, or wished for.
If the department is unable to offer any information (eg. plans given to lawyers, and/or ministerial response to the legal advice) please provide a full response that specifically explains the exact prejudice, and the evidence you have that there is a greater than 50% likelihood that this will happen. We would not expect to see generic arguments in this case, as transparency serves the public interest too.
I look forward to receiving a response within 20 days and very much appreciate the department's attention to this important matter before March 9th.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this request.
Thank you for your reply.
I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Education's handling of my FOI request 'Plans for administration of the Weald of Kent grammar school using an annexe in Sevenoaks'. I wish to request a review of this decision, and I hope you will reconsider.
I would like to clarify that I do NOT need to see documents containing a) Assessments, professional judgements, or advice about this decision b) Legal notes or advice c) Any personal names.
I believe that there is still information that you hold that is simple information without any of these factors, and especially the business case document, or original proposal detailing the school's plan. If you hold the business case presentation first submitted by the school can you explain why it is not in the public interest to reveal this information? I would accept this document with all personal names, debate, and legal elements obscured.
You mentioned 'Prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs.' As well as the broad public interest considerations of 'openess' and 'operating in a fair and
transparent way.' Can you define the specific reasons why revealing the business case plan or purely factual details pertaining to the use of the annexe and original school building, is not in the public interest, and specifically for:
1) Parents in Sevenoaks who are discussing on forums that they have no information about how the annexe will operate, and worried that they can not choose the school as they don't know operational details. Plus parents with children now attending the school, who do not know whether their child will be effected by these new operational plans for the school.
2) Local government committees currently meeting to debate whether to request an annexe in their county.
3) Selective school academies and school governors who are now working on ideas for expanding their school to another town.
4) The public who read reports in newspapers about this test case, and read news reports stating that there is a lack of information.
Please can you consider again releasing purely factual presentations of operational details? And if you still feel such operational facts can not be made public, then clarify the Section 36 Public Test argument for not releasing this information. I hope you may help with this clarified request.
Dear Department for Education,
Can I have an update on the status of this internal review request? It has now been 20 days and it is my understanding that this is the usual timeframe.
The school's proposal, as referred to in the letter here would be helpful: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/sy...
As stated you can redact any elements that you have a genuine legal need to obscure.
Dear Ms Bartley
Thank you for your email regarding your Internal Review.
I can confirm that Internal Reviews are handled according to Freedom of Information requirement of a response within 20 working days of receipt. In your particular case we received your correspondence on 9 March which, taking into account the bank holidays, generates a final deadline of 11 April.
I hope you find this information helpful.
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Dear Ms Bartley
Thank you for your request for an Internal review of case reference 2016-0002706, which was received on 10/03/2016.
Please find attached my response for your information
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.
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