Published — Email exchange with ScotGov re: school governance review

Education secretary John Swinney has announced sweeping changes to the structures of Scottish education. Photo credit: Scottish Government

At the beginning of my recent Twitter thread responding to the Scottish Government’s schools governance review I stated that I was still awaiting answers to some questions. This remains the case.

Having contacted the government on Friday last week I had hoped to be able to explore some of the outstanding issues towards the end of this week. Unfortunately it seems that this will not be the case as the government has decided, without consulting me, to treat the questions I submitted to their press team as an FOI request.

(Nb: This is rather ironic given that the Scottish Government has responded to criticism of its attitude and approach to FOI by highlighting the volume of requests that it now receives. Indeed, information on the quantity of FOI requests submitted to government was even shoe-horned into a press release about their plans to resume publication of FOI responses on their website.)

I have been told that this action has been taken due to the “volume of questions and the high level of detail” involved. I readily accept that some of the questions required detailed responses, but I made this explicitly clear during my initial communication with the government. Furthermore, the information that I have requested is related to the Scottish Government’s flagship education policy: changes to the structure of the education system itself which were announced in parliament last week and have been described by Nicola Sturgeon (who wants us to judge her on her record in education) as “radical reforms”.

This being the case, it does not seem unreasonable to expect information on projected costs, additional funding or support for pupils with additional needs to be immediately available.

I have also offered (twice) to adapt my questions (splitting them into two distinct section — FOI and press enquiry) if the government can confirm which specific questions they are unable to answer without following the FOI process. This offer has been ignored.

Treating my questions as an FOI request of course means that the government has 20 working days to respond. This takes us into the school holidays and means that parliament is likely to have begun its 2-month summer recess by the time the information is made available. Whether intentional or not, this would significantly reduce public scrutiny of the government’s plans.

Under normal circumstances none of this would have been made public but given the ongoing and serious concerns around the Scottish Government’s commitment to transparency, and following discussions with several journalists, I believe that the public interest favours release of the communication between myself and the government.

Below is the full email exchange as of 8pm on Tuesday 20th June, 2017. I have redacted the names of the Scottish Government employees and removed their contact details.

16/06/2017

From: James McEnaney

To: [redacted] (ScotGov employee 1)

Subject: Questions on governance changes

Hi [redacted],

As you may well have been expecting I have several questions about the schools governance information released yesterday. Is there someone specific that’s dealing with this? Some of the questions (a number of which have come to me from teachers) are quite specific and will require a relatively detailed response, I think.

Thanks,

James McEnaney

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From: [redacted] (ScotGov employee 2)

To: James McEnaney

Hi James,

Are your questions for a press article you’re writing?

Thanks,

[redacted]

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From: James McEnaney

To: [redacted]

Hi [redacted] — thanks for the quick reply.

I’ll certainly be writing something once I get a clearer sense of the answers to some of these questions and what the proposed changes mean.

James

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From: [redacted]

To: James McEnaney

Thanks James.

If you send the questions over I can direct them to the best person to provide answers.

[redacted]

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From: James McEnaney

To: [redacted]

Will do. Would you rather get them all at once? I’ve got a few now but have some more to come as well.

James

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From: [redacted]

To: James McEnaney

All at once is probably best.

[redacted]

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From: James McEnaney

To: [redacted]

Thanks [redacted]— it’ll be later on today at some point (hopefully) that I get these through to you.

James

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From: [redacted]

To: James McEnaney

Ok, thanks.

[redacted]

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From: James McEnaney

To: [redacted]

Hi again [redacted].

Questions are below, although I might need to come back to you as I might have a few more teachers with concerns.

I’d be hoping to get something together for all of this by the start of next week if possible.

Thanks,

James

Questions:

1. What has been the total cost of the governance review from its commencement to the publication of materials on the 15th of June? (NB This figure should include all costs — preferably with breakdowns — such as the production of the consultation, events which took place during the consultation, analysis of the responses and production of documents made available on 15th June 2017.

2. What meetings took place to discuss the design of the consultation, the responses received, and the final decisions around future changes to educational governance and structures? Were these meetings minuted?

3. What are the projected costs of implementing the proposed changes announced on the 15th of June 2017 (i.e. how much does the government estimate it will cost, in total, to establish the new system being proposed)?

4. How much does the government expect Regional Improvement Collaboratives to cost annually? Can the government provide a breakdown of this estimate including staffing costs?

5. Will the government make any additional funding, over and above that announced prior to the 15th of June 2017, available to facilitate the wide-ranging changes outlined.

6. How will teachers be affected by plans to have councils remain their employers while Headteachers are made responsible for staffing. For example, will the changes proposed make it easier for HTs to remove staff? If a Headteacher decides that they want to get rid of a weak member of staff, would that individual still have a contract with the local authority?

7. The documents make reference to Headteachers being able to “reward” good teachers. What form will this take? Will the government rule out financial rewards for teachers deemed to have performed well by Headteachers?

8. The documents state that Headteachers will decide “curriculum content and offer.” Does this mean that HTs will be able to decide which subjects are available in their school or how many subjects a student can study (for example, the number of subjects available to students in S4)? If so, is the government comfortable with the inevitable local, regional and national disparities that this will create?

9. The Next Steps document suggests this will be transferred from Local Authorities to schools, which will be “working with partners to meet learners’ additional support needs at school level.” The only mention of ASN I can see for councils is that they will be responsible for placing students with ASN in an appropriate school. Does this mean that responsibility for ASN provision will be transferred to schools?

I am aware that some of these questions can be pursued through the FOISA route but had hoped that you might be able to provide the information I need without such a delay.

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19/06/2017

From: James McEnaney

To: [redacted]

Hi [redacted],

Just wanted to make sure you’d got those questions ok and check whether a response on them today would be possible?

Thanks,

James

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From: [redacted] (ScotGov employee number 3)

To: James McEnaney

Hi James,

This is being treated as an FOI request. Your reference number is FoI/17/01337 and our response to you is due on 14 July — 20 working days from the original request date which was Friday.

Many thanks,

[redacted]

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From: James McEnaney

To: [redacted]

Hi [redacted].

Can you advise why this press enquiry is now being handled as an FOI request? Are there specific areas of my questions that you are unable to answer immediately? Had someone come back to me to explain any issues your team were having I’d have been happy to discuss it with them, but transferring these questions to an FOI is problematic (not least because of the time-frame involved) and would obviously have to be reported.

Thanks,

James

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From: [redacted]

To: James McEnaney

Hi James,

We’re treating this query as an FoI request due to the volume of questions and high level of detail you are looking for. This is in line with the way we handle similarly complex requests from other journalists but we will of course try to get you a response as quickly as possible.

Many thanks,

[redacted]

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From: James McEnaney

To: [redacted]

Thanks for the reply [redacted]

Are there particular parts that are too complex for you to answer? I’d be happy to have a look at splitting it to give you the chance to answer some of it directly while the rest goes through an FOI?

James

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20/06/2017

From: James McEnaney

To: [redacted]

Hi again [redacted],

Just wanted to follow up my last email yesterday to see if you’d be able to specify any particular parts of my request that can’t be answered as a press enquiry? As I say I’m happy to have a look at breaking it into 2 streams if that makes it easier to gather the information, especially as I’m looking to deal with the issues raised this evening and tomorrow evening.

James

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