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Government under fire for secrecy surrounding key decisions about academies and free schools

PUBLISHED: 07:14 21 March 2016 | UPDATED: 06:45 04 May 2016

Secrecy surrounding key decisions made about academies which educate thousands of children in our region has come under fire after the government turned down a request to release important documents.

Tim Coulson, the regional schools commissioner for the East of England and North-East London, oversees all local academies, and has powers to approve new academies and free schools, and take action against those that are failing.

He had a key role in the deciding the future of the Hewett School, and his role will expand next year when he considers the fate of non-academies that fall into the government’s new “coasting” category.

The EDP used freedom of information laws to ask for copies of documents considered by the headteachers board, which advises him, and help him reach his decisions.

The Department for Education (DfE) refused an initial request made in April 2015, and has now rejected a fresh request using wording that arose from discussions between the EDP and the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The DfE argued that releasing the information would prejudice the conduct of public affairs and said “it is considered to be commercially sensitive information”.

Scott Lyons, joint division secretary for Norfolk NUT, said: “Parents should be worried, especially in the light of proposals to get rid of parent governors. How are people going to be able to challenge how academies are run?”

He described the use of the exemption for commercially sensitive information as “bizarre”, and added: “I don’t understand how they can get around it that way, because it’s public money. They keep saying they are state schools, but they don’t come under same provisions maintained schools do.”

The DfE did not respond to a request for comment. The EDP is appealing against the decision.

Do you have an education story? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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