Thursday, 24 June 2010

Final copy of response to Information Commissioner

Right this is the final copy of the letter which has now been sent.  I hope I have left myself open to provide more information and request more clarity.

I have been asked to see if this data satisfies any of my other requests as well as the one it is a response to but to my mind until it is clearly framed and less redacted it is not very useful information at all.

Hopefully some degree of enlightenment will follow from this letter.

I must say if the guidelines have been broken as to the level of redaction I am very surprised that a senior complaints officer would not have picked it up!

Dear Claire Walsh

Thank you for your email of the 22nd June. 
Firstly in regard to the matter of the compliance of the DCSF with the rules regarding the timing of responses to requests, would it make a difference to the ruling of the Enforcement Team if it was found that many of the FOI requests where the department exceeded the guidelines by a large margin were not random and due to overload but were specifically to do with the evidence behind the Badman Review? I believe a home educator has done some research that suggested that FOIs regarding the Badman Report were three times more likely to be delayed than FOIs on other matters.  If it could be shown that that this is the case and that this resulted in home educators being unable to access the information they needed from the DCSF to rebut its claims that their children were more likely to be abused, would it provoke a reassessment? 

I am trying to contact the above mentioned home educator at the moment and will send any further information when I do.

Secondly I have a query about the level of redaction.

The guidance I have read states that: (I am sorry I have now spent many hours searching your website to find the source of this guidance which unfortunately I did not record, I hope you will be able to find it.)

4.2 Redaction is carried out in order to edit exempt details from a document. It should be used when one or two individual words, a sentence or paragraph, a name, address or signature needs to be removed.

5.3 In order to conform fully with requests for information, it is essential that only exempt material be redacted. A whole sentence or paragraph should not be removed if only one or two words are non-disclosable, unless release would place the missing words in context and make their content or meaning clear.

It looks to me like whole sentences and paragraphs have been redacted in this information.

Also they state that:

‘ When a public authority decides to redact part of the requested information, it must justify each individual redaction by reference to a specific exemption or exception, explaining why it applies.’

This is the only explanation of the many and comprehensive redactions contained in the information I have received from the department.

‘ Information which might identify individual children has been redacted, and a key to those redactions can be found in the ‘key to master data’ tab. I have also copied this spreadsheet to Claire Walsh at the ICO.

I do not feel that this comment could possibly be in complete accordance with these guidelines.

I would also like to know if it is appropriate to redact the names of the Local Authorities as they are public bodies and surely this is public information.  I argue that the redaction of the names of the public authorities is in no way necessary in order to protect the identity of individual children and if it is I should have received a thorough explanation of why.  I feel many of the other redactions are also heavy handed and should have followed the guidelines more closely with the redactions of words not whole cells of information and I would like this to be corrected where possible.

I look forward to your reply to these questions.

Thirdly here are the the questions that have not been answered at all from my request for information of 1 July 2009.

‘In particular, please supply copies of all statistical returns from English local authorities and other agencies to the DCSF which indicate the educational status (school) or electively home educated) of school aged children on their “at risk” registers.

If there are no returns demonstrating a comparison between the two cohorts I would like to receive a clear statement clarifying this point.

Finally, please confirm that Mr Badman’s contention and all evidence used to support his contention, relates only to children of compulsory education age, since electively home educated children are by definition all of compulsory education age’.

There does not seem to be an answer to this in the spreadsheets I have been given, if I am mistaken I would very much appreciate some guidance as to where I could find it.

I would also appreciate a clarification as to whether this is all of the data behind the claims in the media that:

“Children educated at home are twice as likely to be on social services registers for being at risk of abuse as the rest of the population.”

I ask this because home educators have produced a spreadsheet that calculates the actual rate of abuse amongst home educated children from Freedom of Information request responses from the majority of LAs.

It shows that abuse in home educated families is less than a third of that in the whole population.

If this is so seems very unfortunate and shocking that such claims should be made about very real families and children on the basis of data that did not undergo any data assurance!

Yours Sincerely

Maire Stafford


Anonymous said...

It all seems to make a mockery of the intention behind the Freedom of Information Act, doesn't it?


Maire said...

It does and when you search the site you find a lot of information telling organisations how they can refuse.

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