The state should be frightened of its people
Sep 21, 2009
Bishop Hill in Education, Home education

Well, yes, we did say that the people shouldn't be frightened of the state and the state should be frightened of its people. But guys, we didn't mean you had to be frightened of small children too.

The Department of Children, Schools and Families have recently written to the Information Commissioner stating that they are having difficulties in complying with requests from home educators. (You will remember that the government launched an inquiry into HE which concluded that it was unregulated and was therefore bad). Confronted by an array of FoI requests, the DCSF now claim that there has been "harassment and a display of hostility towards Mr Graham Badman", the civil servant who was appointed to head the inquiry. They say that they need to consider the implications of this behaviour for their interpretation of Section 38 of the FoI Act, which "applies to information that if disclosed would be likely to put the physical or mental health or the safety of any individual at risk or greater risk". In other words they want to withhold information because its release might upset Mr Badman.

DCSF staff have helpfully provided some examples of some of this harassment and hostility. Here's one. It's strong stuff, so I've put it below the fold for the benefit of the squeamish...


So it seems that the DCSF is claiming, in all seriousness, that a twelve second video posted by some children on YouTube amounts to harassment. You have to wonder about the kind of people who accuse a section of the community of being child abusers and then shout "harassment" when some kids make fun of them. Perhaps Mr Badman needs to develop a backbone commensurate with his very large compensation package (he was on £185k when running education in Kent into the ground). Either that or get a job more suited to his sensitive nature. Sweeping streets perhaps. Or stacking supermarket shelves. Nobody shouts at shelf stackers do they?

It's interesting to look at the DCSF letter int he light of the Information Commissioner's guidance, which is quite categorical about the use of the s38 exemption:

[I]t would be a mistake to equate danger to mental health with a risk of distress and the Commissioner considers that the endangerment of mental health implies that disclosure might lead to or exacerbate an existing mental illness or psychological disorder.

Despite the somewhat otherworldly nature of Badman's recommendations - civil servants interviewing children without the parents and so on - it is rather unlikely that even Ed Balls would be so daft as to appoint someone with an existing mental illness to run a major policy review. It is therefore more likely that the DCSF bureaucats know that they can say anything, no matter how ludicrous, to put off the FoI requests because the Information Commissioner lacks the staff to do anything about it and Ed Balls lacks the, well, cojones.

This is borne out by the letter. Andrew Partridge, the "Information Rights Manager" who wrote it must have training in FoI law. He must know that there is not a cat's chance in hell of this ultimately getting by the ICO. But he doesn't care. It seems clear that he and Badman are not operating in the public interest but in the interest of the bureaucracy - in their own interests if truth be told. Really, with a change of government coming, people like this should be shown the door.

Meanwhile, the efforts of the HE community have clearly started to worry Mr Badman and his team. A barrage of FoI requests have turned up all sorts of statistical failings in the report. Badman is now franticly pleading with local authorities to provide some more evidence to back up his findings ahead of a House of Commons select committee hearing later in the year. This shows us two facts very clearly. Firstly the initial recommendations were put together without a good evidential base and secondly that the report had a predetermined outcome.

But we knew that.


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