ACADEMIES AND FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
Academies will be under Section 5 of FIA from 2011
On 16 July 2009 the Government’s announced its intention to consult directly academy schools with a view to including them within the Freedom of Information Act by bringing forward a Section 5 order under that Act. Since this Government introduced the Act in 2005, it has given the public access to information held by over 100,000 public authorities. Section 5 of the Act gives the Secretary of State the power to make an order designating new bodies as public authorities for the purposes of the Act where those bodies appear to it to perform functions of a public nature. So the Government has decided that in accordance with its continuing commitment to openness and accountability in public life it has decided to extend the Act to all of the bodies consulted which include Academies and UCAS “ in so far as they perform public functions.” The Government stated (30 March) that “although independent of local authority control, academies are publicly funded schools and a part of the state education system. Provision of state education is clearly a public function and parents and local residents should be able to access the same kind of information about academy schools as for any other state-funded school. The academy trust is the body responsible for the running of the academy school. In our view, the public functions of academies are those set out in the funding agreement signed between the academy trust and the Department for Children, Schools and Families: in short, the establishment, maintenance and carrying on of an academy. We propose to include academy trusts in a Section 5 order for these purposes from the point at which they enter into funding agreements. The order will be laid and debated at the earliest possible opportunity in the next parliamentary session, with the intention that it will commence in October 2011.”
It must be the right decision. But what about the umbrella quango for Academies-the SSAT-there is no logic for it to remain outside the remit of the FIA, as is the case now,care of its charity status, when the Academies it supports will have to meet much more demanding transparency criteria than it does. Self-evidently this secretive organisation should be subject to a Section 5 order too. After all most of its income comes either directly or indirectly from the taxpayer and we still have no idea whether or not it delivers value for money.