Pupil data: school census and early years census expansion costs

The request was refused by Department for Education.

Dear Department for Education,
please can you provide a copy of the detailed business case provided to the SCSB (the
Star Chamber Scrutiny Board) regards the expansion of the school census and early years census 2016-17.

"All amendments to DfE data collections considered by the SCSB are supported by a detailed business case. As part of the SCSB business case, there is consideration of the cost to schools and local authorities of complying with the request for data (known as the compliance cost) and this is weighed up by the board against the benefits of holding/collecting the data."

(Source: Department for Education response to the Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee http://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords...)

This is regards the collection of data required by SI 2016/808 considered, and approved by the SCSB on behalf of the sector. To help narrow the time required to find this document(s) we believe this may have been in or after November 2015 SCSB board meetings.

Thank you for your consideration and support.
Sincerely,
Jen Persson

Department for Education

Thank you for your message. Please note that from 1st October 2016 this email address is changing to [email address]

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 2016-0043038.

Thank you

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

-----Original Message-----
From: Jen Persson [mailto:[FOI #359188 email]]
Sent: 16 September 2016 06:19
To: MINISTERS
Subject: Freedom of Information request - Pupil data: school census and early years census expansion costs

Dear Department for Education,
please can you provide a copy of the detailed business case provided to the SCSB (the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board) regards the expansion of the school census and early years census 2016-17.

"All amendments to DfE data collections considered by the SCSB are supported by a detailed business case. As part of the SCSB business case, there is consideration of the cost to schools and local authorities of complying with the request for data (known as the compliance cost) and this is weighed up by the board against the benefits of holding/collecting the data."

(Source: Department for Education response to the Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee http://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords...)

This is regards the collection of data required by SI 2016/808 considered, and approved by the SCSB on behalf of the sector. To help narrow the time required to find this document(s) we believe this may have been in or after November 2015 SCSB board meetings.

Thank you for your consideration and support.
Sincerely,
Jen Persson

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Department for Education

Thank you for your request for information, which was received on 16 September 2016. You requested:

Please can you provide a copy of the detailed business case provided to the SCSB (the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board) regards the expansion of the school census and early years census 2016-17. This is regards the collection of data required by SI 2016/808 considered, and approved by the SCSB on behalf of the sector. To help narrow the time required to find this document(s) we believe this may have been in or after November 2015 SCSB board meetings.

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

The Department holds the information you requested (namely the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board business case), 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.

As has been stated publicly by the Department via a number of channels, 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 to ensure all children, irrespective of background, receive the best quality education. Therefore, given the business case to collect this information relates specifically to the future formulation of government policy, this is why s35(1)(a) has been applied in this case.

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 the information provided to the board with regards to the policy drivers and reasons for the collection of the new data items.

Disclosure of the business case may also allow for greater public scrutiny of the information provided to the board with regards to the estimated cost to schools and local authorities of complying with the request for data (known as the compliance cost) and how this is weighed up against the benefits of holding/collecting the data.

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

As the Department commission advice during the policy formulation process from the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board via submission of a business case, disclosure of the business case used during these discussions could have a detrimental effect on the efficient operation, and decision making powers, of the Department. Without protecting the thinking space and the ability for the Department to comission, and 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:
· the operation of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board: https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/sta...
· the reasons for the collection of the new data: https://www.gov.uk/government/publicatio...
· the compliance cost of approved data collection changes are reported by the Department to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and published within the Online List of Government Statistical Surveys (OLGSS):
https://gss.civilservice.gov.uk/about/su...

However, as described above, disclosure of the withheld information would be likely to have a negative effect on the involvement of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board in departmental policy formulation 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

Fiona Nicholson left an annotation ()

Is this year's Star Chamber Annual Report overdue?

https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/sta...

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