Transparency In Schools - FOI Appeal To Access Secret Lesson Plan
Transparency In Schools - FOI Appeal To Access Secret Lesson Plan
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Latest: Nov. 2, 2023
Questions of copyright - an appeal to fund specialist advice.
I hope you might have noticed that in the Prime Minister's speech to the Conservative conference last month, he expressed his opinion that "it shouldn't be controversial …Read more
Who am I? - I am a parent who is concerned about indoctrinating teaching and a lack of transparency in our schools.
Summary - I was denied access to the slides used to teach a sex education lesson to my 15 year old daughter, by her school, Haberdashers' Hatcham College. I was also told I may not know who taught the lesson.
My daughter reported that the lesson included some controversial claims, including the idea that we live in a 'Heteronormative' society, that this is not a good thing and that she should be 'Sex Positive' in her attitude to relationships. I was concerned these views might breach the Education Act's prohibition on political indoctrination and also fail to meet the school's Equality Act duties, regarding protected fundamental beliefs.
The lesson was provided by an external charity called School of Sexuality Education and at the time they had inappropriately explicit lesson plans on their website and live links to their teacher's private company, which advertises sex toys, pornography and anal masturbation techniques to young people.
This presented a potential conflict of interest and a possible safeguarding risk and so I wanted to know exactly what was taught to my daughter, and by whom, with a view to raising a formal complaint.
I made a Freedom of Information request but it was declined on grounds of commercial secrecy for the charity and privacy for the teacher. I therefore referred the case to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).
In a landmark decision, the ICO backed the school's choice to keep the lesson and teacher's identity secret from parents, prioritising the commercial interest of a third party education provider over the public interest of parents to know what their children are taught. They have also prioritised the privacy of the teacher over safeguarding concerns.
Details about my case can be found in the press:
Call to action - I think the ICO made an unlawful decision that fails to uphold the school's public service duties, compromises safeguarding and destroys the trust that is essential to schooling. It separates parents from their own children, and draws children into a tacit agreement of commercial confidentiality with unregulated third party providers.
At a time when very controversial and contested views on gender identity and how to conduct relationships are being taught in schools, with materials delivered by third party providers, it is crucial that parents are aware what their children are being told.
The Department for Education clearly states that, "parents should be given every opportunity to understand the purpose and content of Relationships Education and RSE". I would like to see this requirement upheld.
What are we trying to achieve? I hope to overturn the ICO's decision and establish a ruling that the lesson resources used by my daughter's school should be fully accessible to parents, and that commercial interests are less important than transparency. This is essential for both safeguarding and to permit parents to make constructive, formal complaints - as is their right.
Just recently it has come to light that the charity Mermaids has been providing breast binders to children without their parents knowing, whilst one of their trustees has resigned following contributions to a 'minor attracted persons' conference in the US, and another staff member posted inappropriate images of himself dressed as a school girl online. Mermaids provides gender-diversity training for schools.
Without being able to access resources for scrutiny in a formal complaint, schools and third party providers like Mermaids or the School of Sexuality Education cannot be held to the important standards laid out by the Department for Education.
My hope is that a successful ruling will empower parents to seek disclosure of controversial materials from their children's schools. This will enable them to hold schools and third parties to account for unlawful material.
What is the next step in the case? - To appeal the ICO's decision at a First Tier Tribunal.
How much we are raising and why? I am hoping to raise £20,000 to fund legal representation with specialisation in Freedom of Information, Human Rights and Education law. I would be very grateful to receive support from all those who agree that parents should have full access to everything their children are taught. With many thanks.
Nov. 2, 2023
Questions of copyright - an appeal to fund specialist advice.
I hope you might have noticed that in the Prime Minister's speech to the Conservative conference last month, he expressed his opinion that "it shouldn't be controversial for parents to know what their children are being taught in school about relationships". That was a wonderful high point for our campaign, indicating that our concern about secrecy in schools has reached the attention of No. 10. So, thank you to everyone who has supported my case, which exposed the secrecy at work in our schools to the government.
However, on the 24th of October, Gillian Keegan, the Secretary of State for Education addressed the issue by publishing two letters that introduce new complexities. One letter was to schools and the other was to parents, concerning how materials used by schools for RSE should be shared.
She wrote: "So, today I have acted by writing to schools, making it clear that as parents you should always be able to see the materials that are being used in the classroom." She went on to specifically instruct schools they could share resources with parents regardless of any contractual arrangements for secrecy that RSE providers had insisted upon, so long as parents agree to a "statement that they will not copy the content or share further except as authorised under copyright law".
This advice on sharing is at odds with the outcome of my First Tier Tribunal, which said commercial secrecy should take priority over a parent's interest to have access to copies. This therefore raises important and complicated issues of publishing and copyright law. Specifically, do we or don't we have the legal right to receive a copy and to what extent can we share what we receive onward? Might this proposed solution even place parents at risk of dispute if they handle commercially sensitive material that the RSE provider wants to keep secret?
I therefore think it is important I take advice about this from a copyright specialist to support the next stage of my FOI appeal and so I am asking supporters if they will make a special contribution to my legal fund so I can do just that.
Ultimately, my preferred resolution to secrecy in schools is that our government should legislate to make sure that all materials are published before they enter the classroom, and I will continue calling for this, but for the time being it is important we assess the solutions being proposed right now.
So please do contribute if you can - or consider forwarding this appeal to others who might like to support this incredibly important case that seeks to protect children from indoctrination, to maintain the integrity of the family and to support our democracy.
With huge thanks and best wishes,
July 18, 2023
Target Increase to Fund a Second Appeal
Please note the target of my campaign has been increased to £40,000 in order to fund the legal costs for a second appeal.
My legal representatives believe there are strong grounds for the appeal and are optimistic it will be heard at the Upper Tribunal.
Please consider continuing to support this very crucial case, which seeks to establish that the public right to have unrestricted access to school resources should outweigh commercial secrecy, under the Freedom of Information Act.
And please do broadcast news of this case to others - we need to let all parents and citizens know about the threat to transparency, safeguarding and democracy that this prioritisation of commercial secrecy in schools represents.
With many thanks for all support,
June 17, 2023
We Lost Round 1
Those who follow my Twitter account, or have seen recent press, will already have read that the First Tier Tribunal decision went against us.
Judge Sophie Buckley ruled that the commercial interest to keep lesson plans secret from the public, outweighs the public interest to know what children are taught.
She also ruled that the privacy of teachers outweighs the public interest to know who is teaching our children.
Her complete ruling can be found here: https://informationrights.decisions.tribunals.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i3221/045%20060623%20Decision%20-%20Dismiss.pdf
And my initial, detailed response to the ruling can be read in this Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/NoSecretLessons/status/1668508782672982016?s=20
You can also find this highly unpopular ruling discussed in the press in the following articles:
The ruling is terrible news for those who believe schooling should be transparent for the purposes of safeguarding children, avoiding indoctrination, preventing commercial exploitation, preserving democracy and generally maintaining good quality education.
I therefore plan to fight on and take the matter to the Upper Tribunal and my legal advisors say I have very strong grounds in law, and on principle, to appeal this decision.
I'd like to send a huge thank you to all those who have supported the case so far. Your funding has not been wasted; the case has successfully exposed the lack of transparency and good principle at the heart of our education system, as well as showcasing the poverty of some RSE provision. Ministers are taking note, the problem is getting well publicised and the campaign momentum is building - especially amongst concerned parents. I have received enormous amounts of support in the last week.
This is a strong, well informed position from which we can now ask for action by politicians and also take the matter to the Upper Court. Therefore please do consider supporting this ongoing case and asking other to do the same.
With very best wishes,
May 6, 2023
Tribunal Day 1
My ICO appeal was heard on Wed 3rd, at a First Tier Tribunal.
Thanks to the generous support I have received so far, my appeal was represented brilliantly by Zoe Gannon of 11KBW and Paul Conrathe of Sinclairs Law.
In the morning I was cross examined by the SoSE’s barrister and in the afternoon Dolly Padalia, CEO of the School of Sexuality Education, was cross examined by mine.
Ms. Padalia’s testimony included a number of revelations and an expression of regret regarding her educational charity’s signposting to materials that she acknowledged are inappropriate for children. However she maintained that copies of the charity’s resources should still not be provided to parents under the FOIA, nor should parents be told who taught their child, despite it being established that her charity had caused safeguarding concerns.
The case was reported by Tribunal Tweets here: https://tribunaltweets.substack.com/p/foi-appeal-to-access-secret-lesson
and Lucy Bannerman of The Times also listened to it and reported on it as follows:
However, the case is not finished, since it could not all be heard in one day as hoped, and so the tribunal will reconvene on 10th May. The technical arguments about FOI are yet to be heard. Consequently, there will be further legal fees than anticipated, and I would be exceptionally grateful if supporters would share this case with others who would like to support transparency in schools.
It is my belief that safeguarding, the primacy of the family and even liberty and democracy are undermined if parents cannot have recourse to access school resources under the FOIA, so thank you to everyone who is supporting this key case.
April 25, 2023
School of Sexuality Education Appoint a Barrister and Will Attend Tribunal
A brief update:
I learned today that the School of Sexuality Education (SoSE) have appointed a barrister (Susan Wright of Garden Court Chambers) and have submitted papers at the last opportunity. SoSE's CEO will attend the Tribunal to give evidence.
I believe representatives of the ICO will not be attending and their contribution will be made through their written statements.
With thanks to all supporters of the case.
April 24, 2023
Update on Secrecy in Schools Campaign and Tribunal Date
I’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who has contributed to this campaign, which seeks to overturn the ICO’s decision to keep RSE lesson resources and the identity of an external RSE teacher, secret from parents and the public. The campaign has raised just shy of £10,000 so far, which shows the wide support behind the idea that RSE in schools should be fully transparent.
Your funding (none of which is received by me) has paid for excellent advice and legal arguments, prepared by Paul Conrathe and Zoe Gannon, who will be representing me at the upcoming Tribunal. Over the past couple of months we have been preparing witness statements, submitting evidence and constructing the argument for why parents, and indeed the public at large, should be able to see publicly funded lesson resources according to the FOIA. This is especially important for RSE.
We have now been notified that the Tribunal date is the 3rd May at 10am and it will be held online, and we hope there will be some reporting as it progresses.
Notably, the third party RSE provider that withheld their resources, School of Sexuality Education (SoSE), has joined the Tribunal as a Second Respondent, which gives them the opportunity to provide witness statements. These statements continue to claim that their commercial interest in keeping their resources secret should be prioritised over parents’ public interest to have access to what is taught to their children.
However, this contradicts the DfE’s latest guidance letter to schools, issued on 31st March, which tells schools that:
“…the Department would expect schools to avoid entering into any agreement with an external agency that seeks to prevent them from ensuring parents are properly aware of the materials that are being used to teach their children. Schools should not agree to contractual restrictions on showing parents the content used in RSHE teaching or agree to this being subject to a third party’s right of refusal. There is a strong public interest in parents being able to see the full content of RSHE teaching. Schools must ensure that their statutory duty to have regard to the RSHE guidance is communicated to third party providers, together with the expectation that the default position must always be that the content is shared with parents.
We know that some schools will have already entered into contracts with providers that prevent them from sharing materials with parents. Even where this is the case, schools can show resources to parents in person on the school premises without infringing copyright in the resource, so this should not be an obstacle to sharing materials with parents who wish to see them. Having to come to the school is, however, likely to be inconvenient for parents and schools, so should not be a long term arrangement. We would expect schools to take urgent steps to either renegotiate these contracts or find an alternative provider at a suitable time, so that materials can be sent out or made available online to parents.”
The SoSE has not altered its position in light of this clear guidance that requests transparency, and so this Tribunal is an important test to discover if the FOIA can be used by parents to secure their right to transparency in the teaching of their children, according to the Government's request.
With many thanks for the tremendous support this campaign has received,
Nov. 13, 2022
Appeal is Registered!
Am glad to inform you that this Appeal has now been registered by the First Tier Tribunal Court to be heard in Feb/March of next year.
Thank you so much for your support to fund this important case.
We are still some way off covering the fees and do not have much longer, so please share this crowd funder with your networks to reach those who want to support the very important cause of transparency in UK schools.
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