On 16th May a handbook was published containing a host of new detailed guidelines for the writing of Free School Proposals – all 117 pages of it! This caused a period of frantic activity due to the huge task of amending the proposal to take into account these numerous and varied new requirements. Coincidentally, this was the very day that the window for Special Free School proposals opened. Yet another example of final details about this policy produced very late in the day.
There are a host of new demands not contained in the original instructions. I will not bore readers with them all (although it is quite difficult to choose one to highlight). The one that incensed me though was the one requiring quite detailed information about parents who have responded to the questionnaire the Department ask you to set up to collect signatures of support, or more particularly those who will want to register their children at the Free School.
The handbook produced by the New Schools Network specifies that you need to provide postcodes of families, the age of pupils along with their special educational need The example they provide is a table with individual rows for each child so that the postcode, special educational need and age of child are listed together. The guidance also warns that the Department may at a later date ask for the names of parents and their children, although it stresses not to put these names in the proposal. Oh, and furthermore warns about the need to register with the Information Commissioners’ Office If any electronic data is held (cost of £35.00).
The Gemstones team have paid great attention throughout the document to preserving the confidentiality of respondents as we feel strongly that it is really important for us as a team to demonstrate respect for the families who have such a lot to contend with anyway. When parents or carers have provided responses to questions and we have collated and presented this information, we have done so in a way that removes anything which may identify the child, including diagnoses of one form or another, names of children, schools or any feature which I feel would breach confidentiality.
So needless to say, we have not followed the table format example provided in the handbook. We have instead grouped the information required as best we can so that special needs, post codes and an age span of several years is provided rather than a specific age. Where there are postcodes that may be shared with only one or two houses, (which is a particular feature in rural areas), we have left off the second part of the postcode, so only a wider geographic area can be identified. If this by itself means that our proposal is not successful, then so be it.
Are we alone in thinking this is a step too far?