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Jul 14 2014

The Whitchurch First School Saga…

padlockFollowing the suspension of the Headteacher of Whitchurch First School, for reasons as yet to be announced, we asked the council for a copy of it’s draft copy of the internal report into the financial and management practices of the school. No huge surprise that it got refused:

We confirm that we hold a draft copy of the internal report into the financial and management practices of the school (Report). However we have decided not to provide the Requested Information relying on the qualified exemptions set out in SECTIONS 30, 31, of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and the absolute exemption under section 40 and 41.

Section 30 exempts from disclosure information obtained from confidential sources during an investigation so to the extent that the Report contains information received from confidential sources relating to the council’s investigation this information is exempt from disclosure under FOIA. There is a very strong public interest in the protection of confidential sources to ensure that these sources are not deterred from proving information during investigations and that those who may be guilty of impropriety are held accountable.

Section 31 exempts from disclosure information which would be likely to prejudice the exercise by any public authority of its functions for the purpose of ascertaining whether any person has failed to comply with the law, or for ascertaining whether any person is responsible for any conduct which is improper, or whether circumstances exist which would justify regulatory action. The Report information falling within this category premature disclosure would be likely to prejudice the conclusion of the investigations and the consequent actions the council might take. There is a very strong public interest in protecting the investigatory and law enforcement capabilities of public authorities. Therefore we are satisfied that the public interest in preventing prejudice to those functions of the council outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

There is a public interest in public accountability and transparency but there is also a greater public interest in investigations into impropriety being fair and being conducted out of the public spotlight. Making the council’s draft findings public while another external investigation into the same maters is on-going would be prejudicial to the on-going legal and investigatory process. Therefore we are satisfied that the public interest in maintaining this exemption exceeds the public interest in disclosure at this time.

Under section 40, as the information constitutes the personal data of third parties, we have to consider whether disclosing it would breach the data protection principles. The only one which is likely to be relevant here is the first principle. We can only disclose the personal data if to do so would be fair, lawful and meet one of the conditions in Schedule 2 of the Data Protection Act (DPA) (and in the case of sensitive personal data, a condition in Schedule 3).

We have considered the fact that the Report contains both personal and sensitive personal information about the teacher and that full disclosure of our draft Report would have serious adverse consequences for her. Also she has a reasonable expectation that we will keep the contents of the Report confidential pending the outcome of the final investigations findings. Therefore disclosure would not be fair and we cannot disclose the information.

Section 41 exempts from disclosure information provided to the council in confidence during its investigation where disclosure of the information would give rise to an actionable breach of confidence. During the investigation the council obtained information under obligations of confidentiality towards those who provided information to it in confidence. We cannot breach these obligations of confidentiality towards those individuals without risk of action and so we cannot disclose information in the Report to the extent that the information was obtained under an obligation of confidentiality.

Our request to meet with the interim Headteacher of the school has also been ignored. And attempts to talk to the Chair of Governors, Cllr Camilla Bath (Conservative, Stanmore Park) have similarly been ignored. So, it’s back to making FOI requests, which will take absolutely ages, since the school holidays effectively ‘stop the clock’ on the 20-day time limit:

Under the terms Freedom of Information Act, I would like to request:

– Copies of all expense claims made by Mrs Winstrom, from the start of the 2009/10 academic year to present.

– Copies of all travel requests, tickets, itineraries, and bookings made by, for, or on behalf of Mrs Winstrom from the start of the 2009/10 academic year to present.

– Any documents relating to foreign travel (ie: outside the borders of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) undertaken by Mrs Winstrom from the start of the 2009/10 academic year to present.

– Copies of any GB meeting minutes (including, for the avoidance of doubt, any sub-committee meetings) where the GB, or , if appropriate, members with delegated approvals to do so, approved the expenditure for any foreign travel (ie: outside the borders of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) undertaken by Mrs Winstrom from the start of the 2009/10 academic year to present.

I do apologise for the workload this will inevitably create, but my attempts to meet with both Mr Baxter and Cllr Bath have been unsuccessful.

No doubt this’ll run and run…

 

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