Pupil data: decision making on additional census data items

The request was refused by Department for Education.

Dear Department for Education,

Please treat this request according to the the freedom of information act 2000.

Please provide copies of the following in original format (such as pdf).

Between 01 June 2015 and January 31 2016:

Meeting minutes with reference to the addition of pupil data item 'country of birth'. The participants may include the Secretary of State for Education and other Departments, and/or the Education Data Division and other Departments, whether to each other or involving other third parties, that is related to or resulted in the Request for Change for items pupil nationality (100564) and pupil country of birth (100565).

This should include meeting dates and attendees.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours sincerely,
Jen Persson

Department for Education

Dear Ms Persson

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 2016-0032571.

Thank you

Department for Education
Ministerial and Public Communications Division
Tel: 0370 000 2288

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Department for Education

Thank you for your request for information, which was received on 4 July 2016. You requested:

Please provide copies of the following in original format (such as pdf).

Between 01 June 2015 and January 31 2016:

Meeting minutes with reference to the addition of pupil data item 'country of birth'. The participants may include the Secretary of State for Education and other Departments, and / or the Education Data Division and other Departments, whether to each other or involving other third parties, that is related to or resulted in the Request for Change for items pupil nationality (100564) and pupil country of birth (100565).

This should include meeting dates and attendees.

I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The Department holds the information you have requested. However, the Department estimates that the cost of complying with your request would 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.

Under section 12 of the Act the Department is therefore not obliged to comply with your request and will not be processing it further. However, if you were to make a new request for a narrower category of information or limit the scope of your request, the Department may be able to comply with your request within the cost limit, although I cannot guarantee that this will be the case.

It may help if I outline some possible ways of narrowing your request:

• You have requested details of meetings over an 8 month period (between 1 June 2015 and 31 January 2016). You may wish to consider reducing the time period covered by the request.

• You have requested the minutes of meetings ‘with reference to’ the addition of the country of birth. The volume of meetings where this could have been referenced (either formally or informally) is wide and therefore you may wish to be more specific about the meetings, or type of discussion, you are requesting details of and the parties involved.

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.

Regards

Gary Connell
Education Data Division
Bishopsgate House, Feethams, Darlington DL1 5QE

Dear Department for Education,

Thank you for your reply. At your suggestion, I therefore request specifically the meeting minutes from January 2015 until and including July 2016 of the the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board (SCSB). Either in their original format or copies of that, such as pdf.

I also request the departmental correspondence to third parties, resulting from the outcome of their expansion of data collection to include 'country of birth' decision taken in November 2015.

Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Jen Persson

Department for Education

Dear Ms Persson

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 2016-0037046.

Thank you

Department for Education
Ministerial and Public Communications Division
Tel: 0370 000 2288

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Dear Department for Education,
please may I enquire as to the progress of this request made originally on July 4, and then narrowed at your suggestion on August 1st? Even if the change was taken as a brand new request, the latest due date is tomorrow, August 26. As I am in correspondence on these changes, the accuracy of these documents matters to get right. I would greatly appreciate receiving the copies of the documents as soon as possible.

Thank you very much.
Sincerely,
Jen Persson

Department for Education

1 Attachment

  • Attachment

    FOI 2016 0037046 DfEThirdPartyComms Attachment 1 of 5.zip

    3.8M Download

Thank you for your request for information, which was received on 1 August 2016. You requested:

Thank you for your reply. At your suggestion, I therefore request specifically the meeting minutes from January 2015 until and including July 2016 of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board (SCSB). Either in their original format or copies of that, such as pdf.

I also request the departmental correspondence to third parties, resulting from the outcome of their expansion of data collection to include 'country of birth' decision taken in November 2015.

I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”).

With regards to the request for ‘departmental correspondence to third parties, resulting from the outcome of their expansion of data collection to include 'country of birth' decision taken in November 2015’, as there is a considerable volume of information, it has been necessary to split our response. Some of the information is included within this email and further information will follow shortly.

The overall information provided includes a small number of redactions under section 40(2) (personal data) of the Act. This is because the information in question includes third party personal data. Personal data is that which relates to a living individual who can be identified from that data, or from that data and other information which is likely to be in, or to come into, the possession of the requestor. Disclosure of this information would contravene a number of the data protection principles in the Data Protection Act 1998, and would be regarded as ‘unfair’. By that, we mean the likely expectations of the data subject that his or her information would not be disclosed to others and the effect which disclosure would have on the data subject. Section 40(2) is an absolute exemption and is not subject to the public interest test.

As requested, the information provided relates specifically to departmental correspondence to third parties as a direct result of our decision to expand the data collection to include new data items on country of birth and nationality. Any correspondence as a result of responses to specific queries received directly from third parties, rather than as a result of our decision to collect the data, have therefore not been included.
The Department holds the remainder of the information you requested (namely the meeting minutes of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board between January 2015 and July 2016), but it is being withheld under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The exemption which applies to this information is s35(1)(a) which allows for the withholding of information if it relates to the formulation or development of government policy.

In applying section 35(1)(a), the Act requires that the Department balances the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosing the information. We concluded that the public interest in maintaining the exemption and not disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure in this instance. I have set out below the particular factors which the Department considered when deciding where the public interest lay:
There is a general public interest in disclosure. Making the information available may provide greater transparency to the decision making process and will allow the public to understand how changes to DfE data collections are reviewed by the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board on behalf of the sector. Disclosure may also provide the public with greater certainty as to the policy drivers and reasons for the collection of the new data items.

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. The Star Chamber Scrutiny Board is an independent external panel of representatives from schools and local authorities with responsibility for representing the sector and ensuring that all data collection proposals are necessary, provide value for money and are designed to add as small a burden to the frontline as possible. All requests for changes to data collections have to be approved by Star Chamber and if details of their discussions are made public this could have a detrimental effect on the efficient operation, and decision making powers, of this board. Without protecting the thinking space and the ability for the Department to receive free and frank advice from Star Chamber on behalf of the sector, there is likely to be a corrosive effect on the conduct of good government, with a risk that full consideration of the options will diminish and decision making will become poorer.
When considering the public interest in releasing the information, we also noted that there is already non-disclosive information in the public domain regarding both the operation of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board (see: https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/sta...) and the reasons for the collection of the new data (see: https://www.gov.uk/government/publicatio...). However, as described above, disclosure of the withheld information would be likely to have a negative effect on the future operation of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board and, by negating sector led consultation and involvement in proposed changes to data collections, lead to less fully-informed decision making. This is not in the public interest. The Department has therefore concluded that, in this case, the public interest in non-disclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

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 service you have received in relation to your request and wish to make a complaint or request a review of our decision, you should write to me within two calendar months of the date of this letter.

If you are not content with the outcome your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. Generally, however, the ICO cannot make a decision unless you have already exhausted the Department's complaints procedure.

Regards
Gary Connell

Education Data Division
Bishopsgate House, Feethams, Darlington DL1 5QE

Department for Education

1 Attachment

  • Attachment

    FOI 2016 0037046 DfEThirdPartyComms Attachment 2 of 5.zip

    6.8M Download

Please find attachment 2 of 5 referring to FOI 2016-0037046.

Regards
Gary Connell

Education Data Division
Bishopsgate House, Feethams, Darlington DL1 5QE

Department for Education

1 Attachment

  • Attachment

    FOI 2016 0037046 DfEThirdPartyComms Attachment 3 of 5.zip

    1.8M Download

Please find attachment 3 of 5 referring to FOI 2016-0037046.

Regards
Gary Connell
Education Data Division
Bishopsgate House, Feethams, Darlington DL1 5QE

Department for Education

1 Attachment

  • Attachment

    FOI 2016 0037046 DfEThirdPartyComms Attachment 4 of 5.zip

    5.0M Download

Please find attachment 4 of 5 referring to FOI 2016-0037046.

Regards
Gary Connell
Education Data Division
Bishopsgate House, Feethams, Darlington DL1 5QE

Department for Education

1 Attachment

  • Attachment

    FOI 2016 0037046 DfEThirdPartyComms Attachment 5 of 5.zip

    6.8M Download

Please find attachment 5 of 5 referring to FOI 2016-0037046.

Regards
Gary Connell
Education Data Division
Bishopsgate House, Feethams, Darlington DL1 5QE

Department for Education

1 Attachment

Thank you for your recent email enquiring about progress with your recent freedom of information request. I understand that you should now have received a response to your request and this was hopefully issued yesterday (30 August) - emails are sometimes held overnight because of file sizes.
Just to confirm that the request received on 1 August is treated as a brand new request and therefore, whilst we will endeavour to respond to all FOI requests as soon as possible, the Department have up to 20 working days to respond to FOI requests. For requests received on 1 August 2016, the deadline (accounting for the bank holiday on 29 August) was therefore 30 August. Hopefully the attached calendar will help to illustrate that pictorially.
Regards
Department for Education

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Dear Department for Education,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Education's handling of my FOI request 'Pupil data: decision making on additional census data items'.
A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/p...

Thank you for your response to my Freedom of Information request from July 4, 2016 to which you provided part of the information on August 30, 2016. Your correspondence reference number 2016-0037046.

At your suggestion to modify the July 4 request, I requested specifically “the meeting minutes from January 2015 until and including July 2016 of the the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board (SCSB). Either in their original format or copies of that, such as pdf.”

I also requested “the departmental correspondence to third parties, resulting from the outcome of their expansion of data collection to include 'country of birth' decision taken in November 2015.”

The first three folders of information provided on August 30 (1,2,3 ) are of material which are not related to the outcome of the meeting of November 2015, but are from before that -- October 27, October 29,. November 3, and November 24. The time taken to provide these should therefore please be disregarded.

The request for third parties correspondence was not (limited to) providers, but all third parties, including across the Department and to other government Departments, but specific only to the November 2015 meeting content.

I therefore ask that you confirm you are withholding this information, or provide copies of correspondence from the correct time period, from or since the November 2015 meeting.
.
Further, I note that the Department has withheld the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board minutes between January 2015 and July 2016 under exemption s35(1)(a).

I appeal that decision.

While I understand the desire to protect the privacy of the panel and which members made which statements, there is the opportunity to both provide the content of the meetings to deliver public transparency, and also maintain personal data exempt.

There is a strong case in the Public Interest for release, given the need for open scrutiny of policy, transparency of funding to understand the cost versus public benefit of this national data collection and systems recoding across every school in England, and the importance of being accountable for the decision making on 8 million children’s personal confidential data. There is significant public interest in allowing public scrutiny of policy, including questions and concerns, before implementation.

More specifically, the exemption, section 35(1)(a) relates to the formulation or development of government policy. This policy has already been decided upon (collecting pupil data into the National Pupil Database) and is no longer being formulated although may include discussion of an expansion of what is already being done. These meetings cover operational decisions, rather than policy decision. The public and profession would be most surprised to find an unelected Board were fomulating policy without any White Paper, or consultation, and without any transparent oversight. The Board has the role of scrutiny, not policy.

The Minister for School Standards has also said on July 25, 2016 in a Parliamentary statement : "There are currently no plans for the Department to change the existing protocols and processes for the handling and disclosure of confidential information." [of the National Pupil Database, into which these data will feed.] Therefore I further conclude that no new policy has been formulated on the use of data.

Given the need for transparency to ensure public trust in good government, and trust in the stated purposes to which these data will be used, and to be able to weigh up the public cost versus public benefit of operational practices, including risks and alternatives before it is implemented, the balance of the public interest test should find in favour of the minutes of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board (SCSB) being released.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,

Jen Persson

Dear Department for Education,
On August 31, 2016 I requested an internal review of the decison to withhold meeting minutes from the November 2015 Star Chamber meeting.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, organisations have a duty to ensure the review takes no longer than 20 working days in most cases, or 40 in exceptional circumstances. (ref: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/gui...) under the section 45 code of practice.

It has now been 46 working days since I made the Internal Review request. (31 Aug - 2 Nov 2016)

Please can you let me know if the Department intends to meet the obligations of the review and respond shortly, or if not, when you expect to be able to fulfil the request? I shall otherwise proceed with the next stage of the process under the assumption that the Department does not intend to provide the documents after an Internal Review.

Thank you.
Sincerely,
Jen Persson

Department for Education

I refer to your request for an internal review which was received on 31 August. You requested:

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Education's handling of my FOI request 'Pupil data: decision making on additional census data items'.
A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/p...

Thank you for your response to my Freedom of Information request from July 4, 2016 to which you provided part of the information on August 30, 2016. Your correspondence reference number 2016-0037046.

At your suggestion to modify the July 4 request, I requested specifically “the meeting minutes from January 2015 until and including July 2016 of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board (SCSB). Either in their original format or copies of that, such as pdf.”

I also requested “the departmental correspondence to third parties, resulting from the outcome of their expansion of data collection to include 'country of birth' decision taken in November 2015.”

The first three folders of information provided on August 30 (1,2,3) are of material which are not related to the outcome of the meeting of November 2015, but are from before that -- October 27, October 29,. November 3, and November 24. The time taken to provide these should therefore please be disregarded.

The request for third parties correspondence was not (limited to) providers, but all third parties, including across the Department and to other government Departments, but specific only to the November 2015 meeting content.

I therefore ask that you confirm you are withholding this information, or provide copies of correspondence from the correct time period, from or since the November 2015 meeting.

Further, I note that the Department has withheld the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board minutes between January 2015 and July 2016 under exemption s35(1)(a).

I appeal that decision.

While I understand the desire to protect the privacy of the panel and which members made which statements, there is the opportunity to both provide the content of the meetings to deliver public transparency, and also maintain personal data exempt.

There is a strong case in the Public Interest for release, given the need for open scrutiny of policy, transparency of funding to understand the cost versus public benefit of this national data collection and systems recoding across every school in England, and the importance of being accountable for the decision making on 8 million children’s personal confidential data. There is significant public interest in allowing public scrutiny of policy, including questions and concerns, before implementation.

More specifically, the exemption, section 35(1)(a) relates to the formulation or development of government policy. This policy has already been decided upon (collecting pupil data into the National Pupil Database) and is no longer being formulated although may include discussion of an expansion of what is already being done. These meetings cover operational decisions, rather than policy decision. The public and profession would be most surprised to find an unelected Board were fomulating policy without any White Paper, or consultation, and without any transparent oversight. The Board has the role of scrutiny, not policy.

The Minister for School Standards has also said on July 25, 2016 in a Parliamentary statement: "There are currently no plans for the Department to change the existing protocols and processes for the handling and disclosure of confidential information." [of the National Pupil Database, into which these data will feed.] Therefore I further conclude that no new policy has been formulated on the use of data.

Given the need for transparency to ensure public trust in good government, and trust in the stated purposes to which these data will be used, and to be able to weigh up the public cost versus public benefit of operational practices, including risks and alternatives before it is implemented, the balance of the public interest test should find in favour of the minutes of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board (SCSB) being released.

The Department has now completed its internal review process and has carried out a thorough review of the case, chaired by a senior official who was not involved with the original request. As the original request was split into two distinct sections with each handled differently in the response, we have considered each section separately during the review. Details are provided below:

1. Departmental correspondence to third parties, resulting from the outcome of their expansion of data collection to include 'country of birth' decision taken in November 2015

The review panel was content that the correspondence provided in response to this part of the request was everything in scope of the request with the only details omitted being the redaction of personal details under section 40(2) (personal data) of the Act. Further clarification on this part of the request is provided below:

• Although correspondance with other government departments regarding the discussions with the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board in November 2015 are in scope of the request, we are able to confirm that no such discussions took place.

• Internal discussions between officials within the Department for Education would not be defined as ‘departmental correspondence with third parties’ and therefore were not viewed as in scope of the original request.

• Although the changes to the data collection were approved by Star Chamber at their meeting on 5 November 2015, the lead in times associated with making changes to the school census require the Department to informally engage with third parties before formal decisions have been made. The communications dated 27 October 2015, 29 October 2015 and 3 November 2015 are therefore specifically related to the data collection changes agreed in November and are provided to give a full picture of the requested information.

• The response provided was fully within the cost threshold and therefore all relevant correspondence had been provided.

2. The meeting minutes from January 2015 until and including July 2016 of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board (SCSB). Either in their original format or copies of that, such as pdf

The Department has decided to uphold the original decision not to disclose the information concerned for the same reasons set out in the letter of 30 August. Further clarification on this part of the request is provided below:

• The reason for the collection of this data was to bridge a data gap and provide the Department with a better evidence base for future policy decision making and therefore the information requested relates specifically to the formulation of government policy with regards to the Departments approach to social inclusion to ensure all children, irrespective of background, receive the best quality education.

• The Department do not have a policy of collecting pupil level data solely for the purpose of populating the national pupil database and therefore the policy decision to extend the school census data collection is entirely separate to the subsequent availability, and processing, of this information in the national pupil database (which is governed via other processes).

• Although Star Chamber do not, themselves, formulate government policy they play an important role in advising the Department during the policy formulation process. If appropriate the board may suggest alternative means of achieving the desired outcomes or suggest changes to the proposal to make it more effective in its purpose.

The review panel were therefore content that the Star Chamber documentation and discussions would be exempt under section 35(1)(a) to protect the integrity of the Department’s policy making process and ensure a safe space for policy formulation and development.

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: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/gui...

Regards
Gary Connell

Education Data Division
Bishopsgate House, Feethams, Darlington DL1 5QE

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