FREEDOM OF INFORMATION PRINCIPALS & GOVERNORS AWARENESS SESSION WILLIAM ANDERSON INFORMATION MANAGEMENT OFFICER
AGENDA • What is the Freedom of Information Act? • Data Protection Act and the Environmental Information Regulations • How information is released to the public • Exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act • Handling Freedom of Information requests • Example requests • Tea Break • What is provided by DE • What will be provided by SELB • Summary
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000 The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives people the right to request information from Public Authorities. It is intended to promote a culture of openness and accountability amongst public sector bodies, and therefore facilitate better public understanding of how public authorities carry out their duties, why they make the decisions they do, and how they spend public money.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000 • Comes fully into force in January 2005 • Covers the entire Public Sector • Promotes greater openness and accountability • Establishes a statutory right to information • Sets out exemptions from that right • Provides for the release of information in the public interest • Requires Public Authorities to produce Publication Schemes • Establishes Information Commissioner • Must reply to requests within 20 working days • All requests must be in writing • Any member of staff can receive a request
DATA PROTECTION ACT 1998 • The Data Protection Act 1998 was introduced to help protect peoples privacy, by ensuring that any personal data held on computer or in a manual record management system, was used properly. • There are eight principles put in place by the Act to make sure information is handled properly. They say that data must be: 1. fairly and lawfully processed; 2. processed for limited purposes; 3. adequate, relevant and not excessive; 4. accurate; 5. not kept for longer than is necessary; 6. processed in line with your rights; 7. secure; and, 8. not transferred to countries without adequate.protection.
DATA PROTECTION ACT 1998 (Cont’d) • The Data Protection Act gives individuals the right to request all personal information which is being held about them. • Requires the School to modify personal data if it is incorrect, inaccurate or outdated. ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION REGULATIONS 2004 • The Environmental Information Regulations establish an access regime which allows people to request environmental information from public authorities and those bodies carrying out a public function. • A request can be verbal or written, electronic or hardcopy and must be answered within 20 working days. • Environmental information would include information on the state of the environment and information on policies and legislation.
HOW INFORMATION IS RELEASED TO THE PUBLIC • Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 Schools were obliged to adopt a Publication Scheme, which allowed for the proactive release of information. • The Information Commissioner gave the option for a school to create its own scheme, or to adopt a model scheme. • Schools were required to have a publication scheme in place by 29th February 2004. • Examples of information available via the Publication Scheme: • School Prospectus • Governors’ Annual Report • Minutes of meeting of the governing body and its committees
EXEMPTIONS FROM ACCESS • Requests for information where an exemption may apply include; Personal Information, Commercially sensitive information and Information intended for future publication. • Absolute Exemptions -No right of access under FOI -There may be another means of accessing information e.g. through Data Protection Act or Environmental Information Regulations • Qualified Exemptions - Even if the exemptions applies, authorities must disclose if it is in the public interest to do so
HANDLING INFORMATION REQUESTS • Decide whether the request is a request under DPA, EIR or FOI • Decide whether the school holds the information or whether it should be transferred to another body • Provide the information if it has already been made public • Inform the enquirer if the information is not held • Consider whether a third party’s interests might be affected by disclosure and if so consult them • Consider whether any exemptions apply and whether they are absolute or qualified
HANDLING INFORMATION REQUESTS (Cont) • Carry out a public interest test to decide if applying the qualified exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information • If a request is made for a document that contains exempt personal information ensure that the personal information is removed • Decide whether the estimated cost of complying with the request will exceed £450 (current guidance) • Consider whether the request is vexatious or repeated
EXAMPLE 1 John Smith 15 Hill Street Armagh BT61 4ZZ Oldtown School Market StreetARMAGHBT61 7XX Dear Sir/Madam, Could you please inform me how much the Principal gets paid and how much they have claimed in expenses in the past year. Yours faithfully, John Smith
EXAMPLE 2 Mary Jones 15 Mill Street Armagh BT61 5BB Oldtown School Market Street ARMAGH BT61 7XX Dear Sir/Madam, Can you please send me a copy of all of the records that you have regarding my son James, and also any information that you have about me. Yours faithfully, Mary Jones
EXAMPLE 3 E-MAIL From: Mary Jones To: Jane Smith Cc: Subject: Information Request Dear Mrs Smith, Could you please send me details of all your schools exam results for the past three years. I would like the breakdown by exam type and subject. Mary Jones 15 Mill Street Armagh BT61 5BB
WHAT IS PROVIDED BY DE • Model Publication Scheme (already circulated) • Model Records Management Policy (being developed) (Responsibilities for maintaining records) • Model Retention and Disposal Schedule (being developed) (e.g. Substitute Teacher Records – 7 years then destroy Order books, Invoices – 7 years then destroy)
WHAT WILL BE PROVIDED BY SELB • Model Procedures for schools including standard letters • General guidance leaflets and a website for FOI • Help Desk support All calls for support should be logged with the SELB Corporate Information Systems help desk: Tel : (028) 3751 2501 Email : email@example.com
IN SUMMARY • Freedom of Information covers almost all information held by the School and is fully retrospective • Any member of staff can receive a Freedom of Information request • All requests must be in writing • The School has only 20 working days to respond to a request
USEFUL WEBSITES • www.selb.org/foi (being developed) • www.deni.gov.uk (model publication schemes) • www.publications.teachernet.gov.uk (look under Online Publications, School Mgt & Admin) • www.proni.gov.uk • www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk • www.nationalarchives.gov.uk • www.foi.gov.uk