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Free school bidders to be disclosed

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The government will have to reveal the identity of groups who have bid to set up free schools, as a result of a new ruling by the Information Tribunal.

An increasing number of education jobs are being created at free schools, which are state-funded institutions set up by groups such as parents and charities and of which there are already 80 in operation, with another 102 expected to open this year.

Back in June 2011, the Department for Education (DfE) received freedom of information requests from the Association of Colleges (AoC), the Guardian newspaper and the British Humanist Association (BHA) about organisations that had applied to set up free schools.

In each case the DfE rejected these applications and then appealed when the Information Tribunal deemed that the information they asked for should be released.

The department contended that revealing the identity of unsuccessful applicants could deter these groups from applying to set up a school in future and that any bids that got past the initial application phase would be made public anyway.

However, the Tribunal rejected this argument, stating that disclosure of the identity of all applicants was in the public interest, given the funding being invested in the free school programme and the significant impact it could have on education provision.

It also was extremely dismissive of a survey by the New Schools Network, a body that provides advice on establishing free schools, which indicated that making initial bids public might have deterred some applicants and which was cited by the DfE as evidence.

The Tribunal described the survey as being of poor quality and undermined by bias and expressed surprise that the department had sought to base its case on it.

Both the AoC and the BHA welcomed the ruling, which the government can now either accept or else has a limited timeframe to appeal against.

However, Natalie Evans, director of the New Schools Network, voiced her dissatisfaction with the Tribunal's decision, telling BBC News that "if just one person is put off wanting to set up a free school for fear of reprisals, then it is one person too many".

Posted by Alan DouglasADNFCR-2164-ID-801526001-ADNFCR

Published On 22/01/2013

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