DfE refuse to release Beccles Free School impact assessment

Sir John Leman High School v the Secretary of State
for Education
The DfE have continued to refuse to release information about the Beccles Free School approval process. Stone King, solicitors acting on behalf of Sir John Leman High School requested a copy of the impact assessment carried out under the Academies Act that is meant to be done before a free school is approved. This is meant to consider the impact of the proposed free school on neighbouring schools.

Refusing to release the impact assessment the DfE stated:
The Department holds the other information you requested but this information is being withheld because it is exempt from disclosure under section 36 (2) (b) (i) and (2) (c) of the Act because it would, or would be likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of advice and would, or would be likely otherwise to, prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.
As section 36 is a qualified exemption a public information test has been carried out. In doing so it is acknowledged that there is a general public interest in disclosure of this information because of the need for there to be open and transparent government and that the sharing of information with the public should be free and open.
Releasing this information may on the other hand also have the negative effect of restraining dialogue and closing off discussions for consideration of better options in relation to the development of a Free School. Ministers and officials need space to develop their thinking and officials need to be able to provide free and frank advice in relation to Free School proposals. By not being able to give free and frank advice, there is a risk of poor decisions being made as not all options are considered.
Stone King are understandably unhappy with this response and are taking the case to the Information Commissioner on behalf of Sir John Leman. They are particularly keen to find out how the new school will be funded and if money will be clawed back due to the low numbers of children.
Stone King Letter to the DfE

Stone King comment on the DfE’s response:
There is a clear public interest in the expenditure of considerable public funds on BFS given that very low numbers of parents have registered an interest in their children attending BFS. However the Department has refused to disclose the actual impact assessment in response to Freedom of Information Request on the vague grounds that putting this document into the public domain would “have the negative effect of restraining dialogue and closing off discussions for consideration of better options in relation to the development of a Free School...”.
Sir John Leman High School will be appealing this secretive approach. It is also seeking specific information from the Department about what planning has been put in place to make the BFS sustainable after its first start up year when there may be a significant clawback from its budget because of low numbers attending the school. 
This letter follows this response on behalf of the DfE by the Treasury Solicitor which is the Government’s response to the formal letter of claim issued by Stone King in the proposed judicial review.
Treasury Solicitor's Response to Letter of Claim

My thanks to Stone King for allowing the publication of this correspondence
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