THE British Humanist
Association (BHA) is celebrating the unanimous verdict from the
Information Tribunal that the identity of applicants hoping to open
free schools must be disclosed to the public.
On Tuesday, the Tribunal
rejected an appeal by the Department for Education (DfE) against a
ruling by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in July that
"the balance of public interest favoured disclosure."
"The Free School programme
involves substantial public funds and significant changes to the
way the education service is controlled, managed, and delivered,"
the tribunal judge wrote. "It is a matter of considerable public
importance, and the transparency of the process and its openness to
public debate and consideration are of concern to communities
The requests for information
about applicants to the programme were first made to the DfE in
June 2011 by the Association of Colleges, The Guardian,
and the British Humanist Association (BHA). The latter sought
information about the name, location, and faith of proposed
The requests were rejected
on the grounds that information about applicants would be published
in future, but the ICO rejected this argument and ruled in favour
In its appeal to the
Information Tribunal, the DfE argued that the identity of
applicants who made it through the first stage of the process would
be revealed. It also argued that potential applicants could be
deterred from applying if unsuccessful first attempts were
publicised, and cited the prospect of such applicants' facing
campaigning from the BHA. Its survey of 100 applicants found that
almost half (44) said that the prospect of disclosure would have
made them less likely to apply.
The Tribunal was
"unimpressed" by this evidence, and described the survey as "deeply
On Tuesday, Richy Thompson of the BHA said that the ruling was
"a victory for transparency and democracy. It is vitally important
. . . that the public is able to have its say in the decisions as
to which proposals merit funding."