A copy of the submissions to the Elective Home Education Review that were received from the bodies and professional experts listed in Annex B of Graham Badman's report published 11 June 2009.
I refer to your request for information, which was received on 15 June 2009. You requested (including the various bodies and experts):
The request has been dealt with under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 ("the Act"). Ms Bell's email of 14 July indicated that the Department holds information within scope of your request, but it was being withheld because the exemption at section 38 of the Act (health and safety) was engaged, and that the Department required more time to consider the balance of public interest in withholding as opposed to disclosure. My email of 11 August extended the time needed to consider the balance until 8 September. It has not been possible to complete the public interest tests until now, and I would like to apologise again for the delay.
You will recall that your email of 14 July asked:
'Do you think that disclosure of all the submissions is exempt under Section 38(1)(a) and (b) or does the exemption apply only to submissions from certain categories of respondent (e.g. named individuals)?'
If it only applies to certain categories, please send any information that does not fall into that category while you consider the public interest test.
My email of 17 July indicated that the Department believed that section 38 was engaged in respect of all the submissions you have requested. To the extent that some of these have been put into the pubic domain by others the Department considers that the absolute exemption at section 21 is engaged. Under section 21 of the Act, the Department is not required to provide information in response to a request if it is already reasonably accessible to you.
In considering the balance of public interest under section 38 the Department also concluded that the exemption at section 35(1) of the Act is also engaged.
This section applies specifically to information held by government departments. It provides that information is exempt if it relates to:
(a) the formulation or development of government policy
The exemption in section 35(1)(a) is subject to the public interest test which means that when the exemption is engaged it is necessary to consider whether in all the circumstances of the case the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
The Department has therefore carried out public interest tests in relation to the exemptions at both sections 35 and 38. The Department has decided that the public interest lies in withholding the information.
The results are as follows:
Taken as a whole the considerations for disclosure add up to an argument that more openness about the process may lead to better quality policy formulation and development, greater accountability, an improved standard of public debate, and improved trust. While in this instance there was opportunity for key organisations and individuals to input views, greater openness about the process may more generally lead to a climate in which policy is not seen as a narrow preserve of ministers, officials and advisers, but one in which there is greater engagement by the public.
Conversely the case for withholding rests principally in the nature of the activity involved in policy making about highly sensitive and emotive issues. Ministers and those advising them, including independent experts and reviewers, need to have the necessary confidence and space to carry out a difficult task effectively, while ultimately being able to ensure, through the mechanism of publication of a final report, that generic lessons can be identified and learned, that thoroughly-considered policy recommendations can be made, and that public interest and accountability are appropriately served. This is important in all policy arenas where the disclosure of provisional or tentative advice, or information which might be interpreted to reveal reservations could have a distracting, disruptive or otherwise detrimental effect on the continuing development of policies and their delivery. It is particularly important to avoid such effects where there could be adverse impact on the health and safety of individuals.
Having taken careful account of the arguments for both release and for withholding, the Department takes the view that it is not in the public interest for any submissions to the review of elective home education to be released. Nor does it consider that any component parts of them should be released. While there are general arguments for greater openness and accountability in the policy making process, one of the purposes of the report already published in this specific case is precisely to provide a balanced and coherent overview of all the issues without disclosing any sensitive information, and to satisfy the need for public accountability. The paramount public interest lies in ensuring that the independent report process is an effective method of identifying the lessons that need to be learnt as swiftly as possible, and that sound policy and implementation results; and this can only be done when participating advisers, experts, officials and Ministers have the necessary space and assurance of confidentiality. This is a continuing area of policy development in a highly sensitive area and a release of the submissions is highly likely to have a negative effect on the development and delivery of key policies designed to safeguard children and improve educational provision.
The case for disclosure of information protected by this exemption rests mainly on the desirability of greater openness for the purposes of increasing public understanding and trust, and on encouraging the greater accountability of professionals.
Conversely, it is likely that a deterrent effect would apply to participation in, and co-operation with, review processes in the future, leading to increased risk to vulnerable children. It is also reasonable to expect, especially in the climate of vilification and harassment surrounding the review that authors of submissions would be subjected to similar treatment. Such action could never be justified. The most effective precaution which could be taken to prevent anticipated danger to individuals lies in not disclosing information which could put them at risk.
Taking all these factors into account he Department takes the view that it is not in the public interest for the submissions to be released in whole or in part. The purpose of the review report already published is to provide a balanced and coherent overview without disclosing any sensitive information, and this includes information which would put at risk, or greater risk, the health and safety of individuals.
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference numbers above in any future communications.
If you are unhappy with the way your request has been handled, you should make a complaint to the Department by writing to me within two calendar months of the date of this letter. Your complaint will be considered by an independent review panel, who were not involved in the original consideration of your request.
If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint to the Department, you may then contact the Information Commissioner’s Office
Information Rights Manager