Free school decision letters published after two year battle

Free school decision letters published after two year battle

After a two year battle, the Department for Education (DfE) has published decision letters sent to the first waves of successful free schools.

However, the DfE were “unable to find two decision letters, for ARK Bolingbroke Academy (wave 1) and Discovery Free School (wave 2).”

All free school applicant groups received a letter stating whether or not their submission to open a school was accepted.

The letters have been released in response to a freedom of information request by Laura McInerney – now deputy editor at Schools Week.

The documents were one of a number of records initially requested by Ms McInerney in September 2012 in the hope of understanding more about the process through which some free schools proposers were granted approval.

Ms McInerney also requested the application forms submitted by all groups who applied to open free schools, and the letters sent from the Government to unsuccessful proposers. These have not been released by the DfE.

The DfE took the freedom of information request to a judicial hearing in July, despite the Information Commissioner’s Office – the body which has responsibility for upholding information laws in the UK – previously having ruled that the information should be released.

At the hearing, the tribunal ruled that the request was “vexatious” due to the amount of work involved in redacting documents – this was estimated to cost £171,875.

During the tribunal, however, the DfE accepted it would not have rejected the FoI request as vexatious had the letters alone been requested.

Following the tribunal Ms McInerney submitted a new, more limited request asking only for the letters.

In January Ms McInerney wrote in the Guardian about going to court, and in July about losing the case.

Among the released letters are several schools with high-profile problems, including the Al-Madinah free school, Discovery New School and Kings Science Academy.

Ms McInerney said: “I’m pleased that the public now have some of the information that up until 2010 they previously had, and always deserved. Let’s hope this is the start of a new transparency trend at the Department for Education.”

Decision letters sent to unsuccessful applicant groups will not be released. The DfE response to Ms McInerney’s request stated that: “The public interest falls in favour of withholding the decision letters sent to unsuccessful applicants in waves 1, 2 and 3.”

Schools Week will be providing more coverage of the documents shortly, and links to letters sent to successful free school applicants can be found here: wave 1, wave 2 and wave 3