Late last year I submitted an FoI request to the DfE asking why the business case for a new free 11-16 school in Stoke by Nayland had been turned down.
Their response was that it was not in the public interest to disclose this information. I then submitted a further FoI in January stating that I considered it to be in the public interest to release this information as public money had been spent in the process and there is 'a general presumption that government should be open and transparent', but also adding a few specific reasons of my own. One of which was : 'It is in the public interest to know the general reasons why free school applications have failed, as this is likely to be of use to other Free School applicants who can then adapt applications accordingly.'
The DfE response, not surprisingly, was to uphold their previous decision that the information about the Stoke by Nayland bid could not be disclosed, but this time they did go into more detail in response to my various points.
In response to the point cited above they stated:
"We do not publish the reasons for failure of individual projects because the process is competitive, where applications are compared against each other and a range of contextual information is taken account. This means that there is no minimum benchmark for an application to be successful because it is dependent on the number and quality of applications received within the round. This could potentially vary significantly from one round to the next. Therefore, releasing information about individual unsuccessful projects may be unhelpful to future applicants and could stifle innovative solutions."
So when viewed alongside against the raising of the 'bar' in Ofsted inspections, am I wrong to infer that there is a new benchmark for existing schools and no such benchmark for new free schools? Is there really a presumption in the DfE that because the free school process is competitive, all those which succeed are 'above the bar'?