Writing in the Guardian, Laura McInerney describes her three-year legal battle to see papers on why some free school applications succeed and others fail, and how what she found made her determined to fight on.
For decades, anyone who wanted to scrutinise the plans for a new school could do so in much the same way that they might check their neighbour’s application to build a new conservatory. Both were a matter of public information. The reasons for a proposed school’s approval or rejection were also made freely available.
Then, after the 2010 general election, the shutters came down. In fact, plans for the government’s flagship free school policy were so secret that I was taken to court for asking to see them.
For three and a half years I have been challenging the government to release these papers, in the public interest. This month the Department for Education finally handed them over, conceding that the information ought to have been made accessible. ..
It is difficult to come to any conclusion from the letters other than that the decision-making process was chaotic and inconsistently applied between 2010 and 2012. Still, I consoled myself, at least the process has improved, and the information is now public. At least applicants will in future be able to learn from each other’s mistakes and develop better schools.
I was wrong. I asked the education department why it changed its mind on the applications and was told: “After speaking to free school applicants we decided to release the outcome letters sent to first three waves of free school applicants, as requested.” But it turns out this will not extend to letters sent after 2012, even if the free school applicants agree to a release.
And so I keep on fighting. Scientists have discovered that people make fairer choices when they are being watched, if only by a robot. England needs more schools to cope with increasing pupil numbers and I believe free schools can be a solution, but only if people have faith in the process. To make that happen, someone needs to be the robot. So I will keep on asking for information – even if it lands me in court…
We’ve just covered the top and tail of Laura McInerney’s story here – you really need to read the full article – but what do you think to the process she has been through and the conclusions she has come to?
And is she right in suggesting fair decisions are more likely when the people making them know they are being watched?
if so, how do you think the process should be structured to make it better for all concerned?
Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…
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