A weekly newspaper’s bid to reveal the names of schools needing improvement has been refused because a council says it would damage their reputations.
Croydon Council has turned down a Freedom of Information request from Croydon Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies after consulting with head teachers on how the information’s release would affect them.
The schools, all said by the council to require “rapid improvement”, claimed they should not be identified because doing so would affect admissions and, as a result, damage them financially.
In an email to the Advertiser, Ash Riaz, the authority’s information coordinator, said the schools had “expressed concern” that the information “could be misinterpreted” because it provides only a “snapshot of the circumstances surrounding the performance of an individual school”.
He added: “Following consultation with the schools and also a meeting with head teachers, the council was informed that the information is considered to have been exchanged in confidence and that to disclose it would be a breach of that confidence.
“In particular they commented that a high level of confidence is attached to this information and that it was provided to the local authority (LA) on the basis that it be used solely for that purpose [of] monitoring and providing support to schools to improve performance, and that this information is not shared with other schools.
“The release of this information into the public domain could hinder the open and frank exchange of performance data between schools and the LA, which is necessary for the LA to conduct its school improvement role.”
Mr Riaz continued: “Schools considered that providing you with this information may lead to them suffering reputational damage and adversely affect their ability to operate for the greater good of the community.
“In particular this information was considered to have the potential to affect future admissions numbers which would in turn impinge on the schools funding and future financial position.”
The council’s decision has been criticised by the Campaign for Freedom of Information, which said there was an “overwhelming” public interest in the list being published.
Gareth has now submitted a second FoI request asking for the full list of how all schools in Croydon are categorised by the council, which produces its own ratings independently of Ofsted.
He told HTFP: “The council’s decision to withhold this information, and it’s reasoning for doing so, raises serious issues.
“Withholding how the local authority rates local schools clearly deprives parents of making a fully-informed decision about their child’s future. It also contradicts the council’s oft-repeated claims of being open and transparent.
“The council said in a public document that it had concerns about standards at schools that had otherwise been rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted, but it is unwilling to tell parents which ones.”
Gareth added: “It is not valid for public bodies to withhold information because they believe it will damage their reputation, be ‘misrepresented’ or because it provides only a snapshot of performance. Using that reasoning, Ofsted reports would not be published.
“Also, it is clear from the criteria provided by the council that this is a comprehensive rating system. For example it looks at exam results over a three-year period. Hardly a ‘snapshot’.
“And then there’s the logic that has allowed the council to claim schools are commercial entities reasoning which, if followed through, would allow schools across the country to block FoI requests.”