Opinion Former Article

BHA becomes party to legal case over whether Government must publish list of proposed Free Schools

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has been added as a respondent to a legal case between the Department for Education (DfE) and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over whether the DfE must publish a list of all proposed Free Schools, including their religious character. The case at the Information Tribunal is occurring in part as a result of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by the BHA, asking for this information.

The case started when the BHA made an FOI request on 21 June 2011, asking for:

  • A list of Free School proposals received by the Department for Education, including the 323 received during the first wave [i.e. September 2011 opening] and the 281 received during the second wave [i.e. September 2012 opening], giving for each:
  • The name of the project
  • The local authority/area of the proposed school
  • The previous name (if applicable) of the proposed school
  • The faith (if any) of the proposed school
  • Whether the proposal was received in the first wave or the second wave

The DfE rejected this request, arguing that to publish the information would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs. The BHA appealed this decision to the ICO, which on 4 July 2012 ruled that the DfE must publish the information by 8 August, as the public interest favours disclosure. However, on 6 August, the DfE appealed the ICO’s ruling to the Information Tribunal, meaning the case will now go before a judge.

The case has been combined with two others, based around similar recent ICO rulings. One asked for a list of 16-19 Free Schools and UTCs proposed for September 2012 opening, while the other asked for a list of the Free Schools proposed to open on the same date. The BHA believes it is the only third party to be added to the combined case.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We will continue to campaign for this information to be published, as while we are not opposed to Free Schools, we do have concerns around the diversity of religious and pseudoscientific Free Schools which are being backed to open by the Government, and believe there therefore needs to be more transparency in the approval process.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.

Read the ICO ruling on the BHA’s case: http://www.humanism.org.uk/_uploads/documents/ico-ruling-fs50415927.pdf

Read the BHA press release, ‘Government appeals Information Commissioner ruling that it must publish list of proposed Free Schools’, 9 August 2012: http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1091

Read the BHA press release, ‘Landmark ruling: Information Commissioner concludes that DfE must publish list of proposals to open Free Schools’, 6 July 2012: http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1067

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Pavan Dhaliwal
Head of Public Affairs, British Humanist Association
1 Gower Street, London, WC1E 6HD | 020 7079 3585 | 0773 843 5059

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