Laura McInerney

Dear Department for Education,

Please could you release the following documents:
(1) A list of academy trusts/sponsors and their internally allocated 'grades' or 'ratings'.

(2) If a variety of grades/ratings are allocated to sponsors, please provide a list for each one, or release any master lists describing all the gradings/ratings.

(3) Internal guidance documents describing how the internal grades or ratings are allocated to academy trusts/sponsors.

Yours faithfully,
Laura McInerney

Department for Education

Dear Ms McInerney

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 2014/0029270.

Thank you

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

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Department for Education

Dear Ms McInerney,
Thank you for your request for information, which was received on 7 April
2014, in which you asked for;

(1) A list of academy trusts/sponsors and their internally allocated
'grades' or 'ratings';

(2) If a variety of grades/ratings are allocated to sponsors, please
provide a list for each one, or release any master lists describing all
the gradings/ratings;

(3) Internal guidance documents describing how the internal grades or
ratings are allocated to academy trusts/sponsors.

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

The Department holds the information you have requested.  However, I
consider that the following exemption applies to your request:

·         Section 43 (2) - Prejudice commercial interests

The Act obliges the Department to respond to requests promptly and in any
case no later than 20 working days after receiving your request.  However,
where one of the exemptions is applicable, the Department must consider
whether the public interest lies in disclosing or withholding the
information.  In these circumstances the Act allows the time for response
to be longer than 20 working days.

In your case the Department estimates that it will take an additional 15
working days to take a decision on where the balance of the public
interest lies.  It is anticipated that you will receive a full response by
21 May.  If it appears that it will take longer than this to reach a
conclusion, we will keep you informed.

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me.  Please
remember to quote the reference number 2014/0029270 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. 
Yours sincerely,

Peter Apostolou
Academies Group
[email address]
[1]www.gov.uk/dfe

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Dear Department for Education,

Thank you for updating me. This seems fair. I look forward to reading the outcome of your considerations.

Yours faithfully,

Laura McInerney

Department for Education

 
Dear Ms McInerney,  

I wrote to you on the 24 April to say that though the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 (“the Act”) obliges the Department to respond to
requests promptly and in any case no later than 20 working days it also
allows for time for the Department to consider whether the public interest
lies in disclosing or withholding the information.  In these circumstances
the Act allows the time for response to be longer than 20 working days.

When I wrote previously I had anticipated that the final response relating
to your case would be sent by 21 May. I am now writing to say that we
require additional time to undertake this process and anticipate that you
will receive a full response by 30 May.  

It is important to make clear that in addition to Section 43(2) we are now
assessing whether Section 36(2) (c) also applies to the information. This
exemption applies to information if its release would otherwise prejudice,
or would be likely to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me.  Please
remember to quote the reference number 2014/0029270 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. 
Yours sincerely,

Peter Apostolou
Academies Group
[email address]
[1]www.gov.uk/dfe

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Laura McInerney

Dear Department for Education,

You did not respond as anticipated by 30th May. Could you provide the date you now anticipate having the information ready?

As a gentle reminder, this request will reach its 40 day consideration limit on Thursday 5th June. A response should therefore be provided by this date at the latest.

Yours faithfully,

Laura McInerney

Department for Education

Dear Ms McInerney,
Thank you for your request for information, received on 7 April 2014, in
which you asked for:

(1) A list of academy trusts/sponsors and their internally allocated
'grades' or 'ratings';

(2) If a variety of grades/ratings are allocated to sponsors, please
provide a list for each one, or release any master lists describing all
the gradings/ratings;

(3) Internal guidance documents describing how the internal grades or
ratings are allocated to academy trusts/sponsors.

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

Further to my letters 24 April and 19 May the Department has decided that
the public interest lies in withholding the information.

Under Section 36(2)(c) the department is not required to provide
information, if in the reasonable opinion of a qualified person (a
Minister in the case of Government Departments) disclosure of the
information under the Act would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely
otherwise to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs.

The exemption is subject to a public interest test with the biggest
argument in favour of disclosure is the advantage of open government and
transparency of decision making. However this must be set against the
disadvantage of disclosure.

Disclosure of the information you requested would be likely to prejudice
the effective conduct of public affairs by inhibiting sponsors from
volunteering negative information to the Department if they believed that
their sponsor grades, which will be impacted by the consideration of this
information, may be released to the public this would have the consequence
of making it more difficult to effectively assess the quality of
individual sponsors and make decisions about them accordingly.  In
addition releasing details of individual sponsor grading could destabilise
academies sponsored by a Trust with a lower grade irrespective of the
quality of teaching and learning at the individual school.  As you may be
aware information relating to sponsor grading has recently been leaked to
the media and subsequently been published in the Observer newspaper this
material when read in conjunction with the material you have requested
would have the potential to further destabilise schools and sponsors.

Consequently we have concluded that the balance of the public interest
test comes down in favour of retention of the information which you have
requested.

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me.  Please
remember to quote the reference number 2014/0029270 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. 
Yours sincerely,

Peter Apostolou
Academies Group
[1][email address]
[2]www.gov.uk/dfe

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Laura McInerney

Dear Department for Education,

RE: FOI Request 2014/0029270

The public interest test as presented here appears only to cover request 1 and 2, and not request 3. Could you please confirm that you are relying on S36(29c)) and the balance of interests as described here as the reason for not releasing the guidance documents as well as the gradings?

As this is a clarification, and not a request for internal review, I would expect to receive an answer within the timescale for Departmental Correspondence and not the 20-day internal review timescale.

Yours faithfully,

Laura McInerney

Department for Education

Dear Ms McInerney

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 2014/0041421.

Thank you

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

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Department for Education

Dear Ms McInerney,
I am writing in relation to your email of 5 June in which you asked for
clarification in regard to my response to your FOI request of 7 April, Ref
2014/0029270.

I can confirm that the Department is relying on S36 (2) (C) in relation to
both the guidance as well as the individual sponsor grades.

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me.
 
Yours sincerely,

Peter Apostolou
Academies Group
[email address]
[1]www.gov.uk/dfe

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Laura McInerney

Dear Department for Education,

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Education's handling of my FOI request 'Register of Academy Trusts/Sponsors' Ref
2014/0029270.

Although the Department took a considerable amount of time to reflect on the public interest test, the answer appears to give only a cursory consideration to the benefits of transparency and provides only a short, unevidenced argument with regard to the use of Section 36.

Furthermore, it is not clear how the reasons given for the engagement of Section 36 apply to the third request for the guidance documents describing how internal grades or ratings are allocated.

For this reason I am therefore asking that the DfE review the process to ensure that a thorough balance of interests test was completed, and to provide both the detail of this test and a clearer explanation of Section 36's engagement with regard to *all* parts of the request.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/r...

Yours faithfully,

Laura McInerney

Department for Education

Dear Ms McInerney

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 2014/0045151.

Thank you

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

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Laura McInerney

Dear Department for Education,

This request is now overdue.

An internal review should be carried out within 20 working days. The date of receiving the request was 23rd June, the final due date was therefore 18th July.

I look forward to receiving a prompt reply.

Yours faithfully,

Laura McInerney

Department for Education

Dear Ms McInerney

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 2014/0051548.

Thank you

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

show quoted sections

Department for Education

 

Dear Ms McInerney,

I am writing in regard to your request for an internal review, sent on 22
June, in relation to your original Freedom of Information request,
reference 2014/0029270,  in which you had asked for;

(1) A list of academy trusts/sponsors and their internally allocated
'grades' or 'ratings';

(2) If a variety of grades/ratings are allocated to sponsors, please
provide a list for each one, or release any master lists describing all
the gradings/ratings;

(3) Internal guidance documents describing how the internal grades or
ratings are allocated to academy trusts/sponsors.

The Department usually aims to ensure that reviews are completed within 20
working days a deadline which passed on Monday 21 July. I am writing to
apologise for the failure to meet this timescale and also to explain that
we hope to write to you with details of the outcome of the review as soon
as possible.

Yours sincerely,

 

Peter Apostolou

Department for Education
[1]www.gov.uk/dfe

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Department for Education

Dear Ms McInerney,
 I refer to your request for an internal review, received on 22nd June
2014, in relation to your FOI request, reference 2014/0029270, in which
you had asked for;

(1) A list of academy trusts/sponsors and their internally allocated
'grades' or 'ratings';

(2) If a variety of grades/ratings are allocated to sponsors, please
provide a list for each one, or release any master lists describing all
the gradings/ratings;

(3) Internal guidance documents describing how the internal grades or
ratings are allocated to academy trusts/sponsors.

Within your email requesting an internal review you asked that we “review
the process to ensure that a thorough balance of interests test was
completed, and to provide both the detail of this test and a clearer
explanation of Section 36's engagement with regard to “all” parts of the
request”

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. 

The Department has decided to uphold the original decision not to disclose
the information concerned under Section 36(2) (c) concluding that its
disclosure would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely otherwise to
prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs.

The reviewer has taken on board your call to provide more detail about the
reasoning behind the decision to withhold the material from release and
with that in mind the text below provides the considerations taken in
regard to both the individual sponsor grades as well as the guidance.

For the sake of clarity it is important to make clear that we don’t
allocate a “variety of grades/ratings” for individual sponsors so hold no
material within the scope of your second request.

Sponsor grades

In regard to the individual sponsor grades the factors in favour of
releasing the information were;

o There is a public interest in government decisions being transparent
and subject to scrutiny.
o There is a public interest in parents being made aware about the
respective grades of the sponsor of their child’s school to help them
better understand the quality of the sponsor.

 The factors in favour of withholding the information were;

o Sponsor grades are subject to change and therefore the release of this
potentially misleading information would not be in the public interest
especially as it is a tool to summarise overall views on the sponsor
and therefore needs to be read in the round to better understand the
sources of information leading to the final judgement.
o The sponsor grades are not looked at in isolation when brokerage
decisions are taken by Ministers as the highest graded sponsors may
not have the capacity to take on a project in the short term while a
less highly graded sponsor may be considered to have the capability to
successfully deliver the project. Therefore the release of narrow
sponsor grades would be misleading.
o A quality grade is first allocated to a sponsor when they are granted
approval it is then subject to scrutiny on a regular basis for
instance at meetings where brokerage decisions are taken. Therefore
grades are naturally amended on a regular basis and their release in
an untested form could be misleading.
o The release of individual sponsor grades would reduce the likelihood
of, currently, lower graded sponsors engaging from projects for which
they would be highly suited to sponsor as a result of believing that
there was little point in being considered.
o Some of the intelligence which feeds into sponsor grades comes from
the sponsors themselves as result of their ongoing communications with
their Sponsor Relationship Manager. The release of the grades and the
potential implications for sponsors would damage this productive
relationship leading to their reluctance to share potentially negative
information meaning decisions taken would no longer be taken on the
most comprehensive picture.
o The publication of sponsor grades in isolation could lead to higher
graded sponsors destabilising schools by communicating with Governing
Bodies  of schools sponsored by “poor” quality Trusts.

Guidance

In addition to the factors outlined above the panel felt that there were
other arguments in favour of releasing the grading guidance slides;

o The publication of the slides would help the public understand how the
Department assessed the merits of sponsors and Governing Bodies, for
instance, would be able to use this intelligence to feed into
discussions with Trusts who may be being considered to sponsor their
school.

The additional factors in favour of withholding the information were;

o Sponsor grading has been established for more than a year across the
Department and the associated guidance document is regularly refreshed
with the version in the scope of the request already subject to
considerable amendment in light of enhancements to the document to
allow Regional School Commissioners, and their offices, a clearer
guide as to how gauge sponsor quality and it would be misleading
therefore to publish such a constantly evolving document.
o The constant refreshing of the guidance means that decisions on
sponsor grades are taken in light of the criteria included in the
version of the guidance used at that particular time to inform these
processes. It would be misleading, to release the guidance as a view
may be taken that the sponsor grades within the scope of the request
were based on the criteria within that specific version of the
guidance as opposed to earlier or later iterations.
o The release of the guidance could lead to both prospective and, to a
lesser extent, approved sponsors presenting themselves to the
Department in such a way as to pass the “test” in terms of merely
meeting the criteria included in the guidance impacting on the process
of taking informed decisions when brokering projects and approving
sponsors.
o The fact that leaked material about sponsor grades in a specific RSC
region has been published means that there is a real risk of
destabilising schools in the area if further information is published
about the individual sponsor classifications.
o The fact that information has been unlawfully leaked means that
providing further information on associated issues could increase the
likelihood of other material being passed in this manner.

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...

Yours sincerely,

 
Peter Apostolou
Academies Group
[email address]
[2]www.gov.uk/dfe

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