Freedom of Information (FOI) is another area where I quite often get queries from schools/trusts uncertain about what exactly it is that they need to publish in order to be compliant with the Act.
What follows is an extract from the FOI summary I have just published on my support network for the schools and trusts I am supporting.
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI Act)
provides public access to information held by public authorities in two ways:
- public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities
- members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.
What do Schools/Trusts need to do?
The FOI Act covers any recorded information that is held by your school/trust (as a public authority). Recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and sound or video recordings.
There are 3 things schools/trusts need to do:
- Adopt and promote a model FOI publication scheme. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) produced a model FOI publication scheme which it expects public authorities (including schools/trusts) to adopt in full, without alteration, and maintain.
- Produce and promote a supporting Guide to Information. The model publication scheme commits schools/trusts to ‘produce and publish the method by which the specific information will be available so that it can be easily identified and accessed by members of the public.’
The ICO has provided a template Guide to Information which can be used for this purpose and this should be completed and promoted alongside the model scheme.
There is also a supporting document on how to complete the Guide, plus a Definition document. The Definition document is intended to assist schools by giving examples of the kinds of information the ICO would expect to see provided in order to meet their commitments under the FOIA model publication scheme.
What schools must publish online
I have advised the schools I am working with to also consider the list of information that schools and academies/trusts must publish on their websites, which can be found here:
What maintained schools must publish online
What academies, free schools and colleges should publish online
- Publish a schedule of fees. Information available through a school/trust’s publication scheme should be readily available at a low cost or free of charge to the public. If a school/trust makes a charge, it must be justifiable, transparent and kept to a minimum.
The template Guide to Information includes a column to add the details of any charges, plus a schedule of charges template to show how any costs have been arrived at.
All of the above should be readily available through your website, noticeboards, newsletters, or posters in places where people access your services.
Where it is not practicable to make information available on a website, or when an individual does not wish to access the information from a website, you must indicate how the information can be obtained (this should be set out in your Guide to Information).
DfE Advice – re parental requests
Maintained schools: if a parent requests a paper copy of the information on your school’s website, you must provide this free of charge.
Academies/Trusts: if a parent requests a paper copy of the information on your school’s website, you should provide this free of charge.
My summary goes on to provide further advice on how to handle a FOI request, covering such areas as what to do when a FOI request is received, charging a fee and when a request can be refused.
If you would like any advice/support on dealing with a FOI request, please get in touch, I would be pleased to support you.