Saturday, 19 September 2009

DCSF Still Refusing to Give Evidence Behind The Review of Elective Home Education

Our Foi asking for the evidence, for Badman's recommendations has been refused .

Here is our reply to the refusal.



Thank you for your delayed reply to my FOI made on 1st July 2009; it has taken 80 days, four times your legal limit for you to refuse to give us this information.

We have some specific comments on your letter.


1) You said:

‘I think it is likely that some confusion has arisen with the statement at paragraph 8.12 of the report of the review which indicated that 'the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of theirhome educating population'.

Yes and we feel strongly that this misunderstanding could have been entirely avoided if (a) a properly designed questionnaires had been used to collect the data from local authorities in the first instance; and (b) there had been full disclosure of a summary of the data and its sources in the report when it was  published.  It is unacceptable that so many people have had to make FOI requests to get at the evidence unpinning paragraph 8.12.  If there is any confusion it appears to fall at the door of the Department about what constitutes good practice in policy making.  We still await the statistical evidence underpinning the claim made in paragraph 8.12.

2) You go on to say:

‘As background, a copy of information that has already been released to other FOI requesters can be found attached to the Department reply at http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/foischeme/subPage...ollection&i_collectionID=312. There is a calculation error in the fourth point of this release.’

Please confirm whether the ‘fourth point’ is the statement:

‘Extrapolating to the national level (150 LAs), this means around 1350 home education children are known to social care in some capacity (6.75%).’

Also please let us know the nature of this error and what the ‘fourth point’ should have said.

3) In addition:

‘Section 40. Having carefully reviewed the information, the Department considers that the absolute exemption at section 40 of the Act is engaged because the some of information requested constitutes personal data, disclosure of which would contravene the data protection principles. Data are 'personal data' if, taken with 'other information' they enable a living individual to whom the data relate to be identified.’

We unreservedly accept that such personal data should not be released.  However, we just need to know the proportions of home educated and the proportion of non home educated children for each heading for which data was collected, we need assurances that this is comparable data, and an account of how the data were collected.


4) Furthermore:

‘Section 41 (information provided in confidence) is engaged because this information was imparted in circumstances whereby those providing it did so in the expectation that it would remain confidential because of its very nature. The Department therefore considers that disclosure of it to the public would constitute an actionable breach of confidence.’

There is no problem here as aggregate data will not reveal data about individuals.  This is not an argument for not releasing the data at aggregate level.


5) On the public interest test, you said:

‘In addition the following qualified exemption, requiring a public interest test, is engaged:


Section 38(1)(a) and (b) this section 38 provides that information is exempt if its disclosure under the Act would, or would be likely, to

(a) endanger the physical or mental health of any individual; or

(b) endanger the safety of any individual.

This exemption is subject to the public interest test which means that even where prejudice or likely prejudice can be demonstrated, it is still necessary to consider whether in all the circumstances of the case the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure. This exemption covers events that could reasonably be expected but do not have to be definitely foreseeable.’


Again aggregate data cannot do that.

6) With respect to the ‘balancing test’ you say:


‘Having carried out the balancing test, the Department takes the view that it is not in the public interest for the any of the further information to be released.’

This is not a reasonable stance to adopt.  The only quantitative claim made in the Review that there is a ‘problem’ with respect to home education and safeguarding concerns is made in paragraph 8.12.  The data underpinning this claim MUST be subject to critical scrutiny – something that has not yet happened since it is unclear precisely what data was used, hence our FOI.  Failure to scrutinise this data risks implementation of the Review’s recommendations that could cause significant harm to home educated children.  At the moment, the evidence unpinning paragraph 8.12 is untested, and the public interest will not be served until it is.


If it is not the public interest to release this data even at aggregated level so that the case for change can be seen by all; then in what sense is it in the public interest for the author of the Review to be allowed to collect data after the review was ostensibly completed.  Data that relates to a claim he makes in paragraph 8.12

The public interest test does not appear to be being applied consistently.

The information Commissioner will no doubt be able to see this exchange which has taken place after our referral when using the link we have sent to this conversation.




And some afterthoughts.




We wish to make some more comments on your letter.

You say,

‘While I appreciate that it is in no way a justification I should like to explain that the Department makes every effort to meet deadlines, but the delay in responding in this case has been due to the unusual volume of requests the Department has received in recent months. The Information Commissioner has been informed of the situation.’

The solution is, of course, to redeploy staff so that they can answer the FOIs.  Otherwise the department risks looking as though it is being obstructive and stonewalling.

You say,

I am not clear which media reports quoted Mr Badman in the way that you suggest above. For information a link to the Department's press release of 11 June is here:

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi...

Been there seen it before.  Possibly the Department’s own press office is slipping up – they should have copies of all press reports mentioning the Department, perhaps the author of this letter could ask her colleagues, or may be go to:  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article6480288.ece and http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/children-educated-at-home-more-at-risk-of-abuse-1703220.html

You say,

I think it is likely that some confusion has arisen with the statement at paragraph 8.12 of the report of the review which indicated that 'the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population'.


Yes and we feel strongly that this misunderstanding is entirely intentional and if evidence of that is needed it can be found in the absence of any clarification by the DCSF even though this misinformation is damaging actual real children.  That Badman is having a third go at collecting the data to support this claim, suggests that any confusion is confined to the Review not home educating parents.  It also imples a level of incompetence in collecting data for the Review that is utterly staggering.

You say.

As you will appreciate the Department cannot consider the release of information which it does not hold, but with regard to your requests we have taken them to refer to the information underpinning the reference
in paragraph 8.12 as this is likely to be more helpful to you. As background, a copy of information that has already been released to other FOI requesters can be found attached to the Department reply at
http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/foischeme/subPage...ollection&i_collectionID=312. There is a calculation error in the fourth point of this release. This has however been released because it is information which the Department holds and which appears to be within - or most nearly within - scope of your request, and which does not engage exemptions under the Act. I understand that the error does not affect the overall findings at paragraph 8.12 of Mr Badman's report.

As Delyth Morgan Dawn Primalo is now on record in letters to Home Educators saying that this is not the evidence that the review recommendations are based on I self evidently don’t accept that this is the evidence most nearly within the scope of our request.


We and the home educating community are still waiting.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

No wonder you are flaming mad.

You know I'm just about ready to go see a judge.

Diane

Jemmo said...

You go guys! Words cannot express my frustration and sheer fury at this continued obfustication by OUR EMPLOYEES the DCSF. Aargh!

Tania and Andrew on Pegasus said...

brilliant Maire! Of course we home educators have done the work (without the pay) and have almost 100% response rates in our FOI's regarding suitable education and abuse and neglect. Is it enough to let the Select Committee look at these figures and draw their own conclusions? These 25 LA's whose data was used (or now maybe it was not used as the DCSF are saying) have different stats for the Freedom of Information requests than the ones they supplied to Badman for the follow on questionnaire and having spoken to more than 30 Local Authorities, more than a few have wryly commented on how the outcome was predetermined. At least in Scotland when the Local Authorities were handed their guidelines in 2007, they had the context of the Scottish Consumer Councils report. Here in England the LA's were handed the new 2007 Guidelines (filched from Scotland) and they did not like them at all as they highlighted that some of them (more thna 20%) had ultra vires requests of their EHE community and in effect they saw it as weakening their authority over a population that in law they have no authority over inthe forst place (unless of course they have genuine educational or welfare reasons to be concerned- in which case the current guidelines and law is adequate).
Why on earth would there be a 5.6% concern rate regarding suitable education -800 concerns in over 14 thousand children BUT ONLY 23 School Attendance Orders?

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