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Academies Bill amended to bring academy proprietors within FOI Act

The Academies Bill has been amended in the House of Lords to bring academy proprietors within the scope of the FOI Act. The amendment was passed at the Bill’s report stage. It was moved by schools minister Lord Hill of Oareford following an undertaking given to Lord Lucas, who had moved a similar amendment during the Bill’s committee stage (see earlier post here).

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, in Committee I said that I agreed with my noble friend Lord Lucas that academies should be included within the coverage of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I said that I would consider this issue further and come back to it on Report. Having thought about it, I can see no reason why academy proprietors should not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act in the same way as all maintained schools are subject to that Act. Amendment 47 would simply insert a new clause into the Bill that would amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to add academy proprietors to the list of public bodies covered by that Act.

The new clause brings academy proprietors within the coverage of the Act in respect of information that they hold for the purposes of their functions under academy arrangements. This will cover functions relating to establishing and maintaining an academy and the carrying on of the academy once it has been established. If enacted, it is our intention to commence this duty in sufficient time to ensure that any schools which become academies in September will continue to be subject to the Act after they cease to be maintained schools. In relation to existing academies which have up until now not been subject to the Act, we intend to commence this duty for them early in the new year in order to give them time to prepare.

We believe that extending the Freedom of Information Act to academies is right in itself, but it also has another advantage linked to our broader discussions in Committee and today about consultation and transparency. I believe that having information about academies in the public domain will help dispel suspicion and make people appreciate the positive contribution that they are making to raising educational standards. I know that noble Lords on all sides of the Committee will welcome this amendment and I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for flagging the issue up with his original amendment.

Amendment 55 is a technical amendment required to ensure that Amendment 47, the main amendment to the Freedom of Information Act, will technically extend throughout the United Kingdom, even though it will apply only in England. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: Thank you.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords would thank the Minister for this. I wish to ask him a question. Yesterday we debated the small primary school that would have been able to become a foundation trust. Today, we have the announcement of the review of the UEA e-mail issue in relation to climate change scientific research, which in itself raises FOI issues. All of us who have been involved in public authorities know that establishing the apparatus and support mechanisms to deal with FOI requests can be considerable. I can envisage a school, perhaps not so much a primary but a secondary, dealing with admission issues and being subject to FOI requests, which is quite likely. My question for the Minister is: what support mechanism will be put in place to help schools deal with the FOI system, because they will need something.

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, that is a very fair and sensible point. At the moment, maintained schools would be helped by the local authority. I take the noble Lord’s point. Academies which find themselves in that situation will need the kind of support that he is talking about. We will think about that within the department. I do not know whether the department is the right place to deal with this-it may well be. I take the noble Lord’s point; I agree with him and I will reflect on it. Perhaps I can let him know how we get on.

Amendment 47 agreed.

The Bill will have its 3rd reading in the House of Lords on 13 July 2010.

Hansard Lords report stage here.

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