The Department for Education is in danger of falling below the floor standard for meeting its legal duty to respond on time to information requests – although it has finally released a controversial grammar school document a year after claiming it did not hold the information.
Figures published before Christmas show the department responded within the required 20-day deadline in 86 per cent of freedom of information requests between July to September last year.
The rate has fallen from 91 per cent for the same period in 2015, and has hovered just above the 85 per cent minimum floor standard for most of the past 12 months.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the public data regulator, could step in to monitor the department should it fall below that standard.
Monitoring inspections can also be triggered if the ICO receives four complaints about delays within a six-month period.
Schools Week understands that at least six complaints have been lodged with the ICO since October about the lack of timely responses to requests.
The newly appointed information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has said the current floor target “seems a little low” and is seeking to increase it, putting the department under risk of intervention.
Speaking last month, she said: “I know which organisations we need to focus on… I just won’t say where.”
Figures released by the Ministry of Justice show that nine of 24 departments of state fell below the 85 per cent standard in July to September last year.
It’s like being on the naughty step – a lot depends on how you feel about being there. If you don’t care, it doesn’t work.
The Department for Communities and Local Government, the worst offender, responded to just 57 per cent of requests in time.
Tim Turner, a data protection specialist, told Schools Week that some departments took the ICO warning seriously, while some did not and “not much happens to them”.
“It’s like being on the naughty step – a lot depends on how you feel about being there. If you don’t care, it doesn’t work.”
There have been just four FOI enforcement notices since 2005.
A DfE spokesperson said it aimed to respond to all FOI requests within the relevant timeframes.
However, it has finally released the application form lodged by Weald of Kent grammar school before it was granted approval to expand in October 2015.
The department originally claimed late in that year that it “did not hold” the information, a claim that forced campaigners to abandon a legal appeal against the opening of the first new grammar school in 40 years.
But after a lengthy appeal, the department released the information days before Christmas. The 95-page application form includes detailed information about how the expansion will be funded, and the consultation responses from parents.