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Information Tribunal orders DfE to disclose documents that led to state funding of Steiner schools

The Information Tribunal has today ordered the Department for Education (DfE) to release two documents from 2010 that helped form the policy that led to the state funding of Steiner Free Schools to the British Humanist Association (BHA). The decision follows on from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by the BHA in 2012. The BHA was a party to the Tribunal case and has welcomed the ruling.

The BHA opposes state funding of Steiner schools because of concerns about pseudoscience on the curriculum (including scepticism of evolution and vaccinations and support for homeopathy), homeopathy being given to pupils by the schools’ ‘anthroposophical doctors’, and the fact that a number of private and at least one state school has opted out of providing vaccinations. The BHA is not aware of any other state schools offering homeopathy or opting out of vaccines. The first two Steiner schools to open did so despite overwhelming local opposition, but this opposition was ignored.

In May 2012 the BHA was told by a whistleblower that the Free Schools team had expressed serious concern about the state funding of Steiner schools but that ministers chose to fund them anyway. In order to ascertain whether this was true the BHA submitted an FOI request asking for the relevant briefings. After having this request rejected by the DfE, the BHA complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), who in January decided that the information should be disclosed. However the DfE appealed this to the Information Tribunal in February and the BHA was added as a second respondent.

After an oral hearing on 10 June the Tribunal ruled in favour of disclosure, saying that the public interest in support of this was ‘overwhelming’ and that the DfE’s evidence was ‘particularly weak and not at all persuasive.’

BHA Education Campaigner Richy Thompson represented the BHA at the Tribunal case. Today he commented, ‘At a time when public concern about the place of religion in schools has never been higher, we need full accountability and transparency with respect to decisions as to which schools are funded. We had this transparency in the past but the decision-making process for Free School proposals has been shrouded in secrecy. Today’s decision helps reduce the democratic deficit with respect to one part of that programme.

‘We have serious concerns about the state funding of Steiner schools. We do not believe the Government’s robust policy against the teaching of pseudoscience is consistent with funding schools that have so much pseudoscience in their curriculum and their health policies. We also think that there are serious public health risks to funding schools that opt out of providing vaccinations. The Health Protection Agency considers Steiner schools to be unvaccinated communities and first Steiner Free School to open did so in the face of reservations from the local NHS Trust. We believe that these documents reflect some of these serious concerns, although we will have to wait for disclosure to see what precisely they contain.’

The DfE has 28 days in which to appeal the ruling. If it does not do so then it must disclose the information in 34 days.

 


 

Notes

For further comment or information contact Richy Thompson, Education Campaigns Officer, at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 020 7324 3072.

Read today’s decision: http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i1318/Department%20for%20Education%20EA.2014.0017%20(25.06.14).pdf

Currently there are three state funded Steiner schools, with a fourth on the way. The first, Steiner Academy Hereford, is a sponsored Academy which opened in 2008. The second, Steiner Academy Frome, is the first Steiner Free School and opened in 2012. Steiner Academy Exeter opened in 2013, with Steiner Academy Bristol due to open in 2014. About half a dozen groups are applying to open Steiner Free Schools from 2015.

Read the BHA’s detailed briefing on Steiner schools: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/BHA-BRIEFING-concerns-about-the-state-funding-of-Steiner-schools.pdf

Read the ICO’s decision:  https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013-12-09-ICO-decision-notice-on-Maharishi-and-Steiner-schools.pdf

Read the BHA’s comment about the Tribunal case: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/02/27/bha-dfe-return-information-tribunal-state-funding-steiner-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.

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