OK – here it is

Finally received a response for the DfE regarding discount codes! I have uploaded the files to google docs at the following address – let me know if there are difficulties accessing them – interesting reading! https://drive.google.com/?pli=1&authuser=0#folders/0B4SP0xPZw12AcHlwd0h4TkowdTA

Does anyone have further information on Susan Tate, Sharon Moore, Paul Johnstone, Diana Muallem or Chris Jones and their professional relationship with the DfE and their “expert” status? The only link I have found for Diana Muallem is a website which is currently “under construction”

 

I refer to your request for information received on 1 March 2013 and the subsequent correspondence between yourself and the Department and with the Information Commissioner’s Office. 

 

You formally requested the following information under the Freedom of Information Act:

•           Please can you identify by name the subject experts you refer to who were consulted in relation to the application of discount codes to all subjects?

•           Please can you provide the written recommendations from all the subject experts regarding all the new discount codes?

•           Please can you provide the minutes of meetings where the decisions were made regarding the application of new discount codes and the final decisions in relation to the different recommendations from these subject experts?

 

The Information Commissioner has asked the Department to reconsider the way it has handled your request and to try to resolve your complaint by informal means.  The Department has taken this opportunity to review the case in full and we are now minded to release the information in relation to questions 1) and 2) of your request.  In light of the passage of time and in view of the increased public interest in this information we are now inclined to share the written recommendations from qualification experts regarding the new discount codes as well as the names of the companies involved.  We have written again to the experts involved in this case and their responses indicate they are content for this release.

 

The subject experts we consulted in relation to the application of discount codes to all subjects were:

 

Susan Tate

Sharon Moore

Paul Johnstone

Diana Muallem

Chris Jones.

 

The advice we received is contained in the attached zip file.

 

In relation to 3), as we stated in our original response we do not hold the information requested as no such meetings were held. Decisions regarding the application of new discount codes for all qualifications that will count in the Key Stage 4 Performance Tables from 2014 were made independently by DfE staff members who each considered a range of qualifications in broad subject areas.  The suggested new codes were then sent (via email) to the subject experts who were asked to advise us about the decisions taken and either agree with our recommendations or make alternative suggestions in their written advice. Where subject experts advised changes that were accepted the list of qualifications and discount codes was updated and then published on RAISEonline in the Library together with guidance for schools.

 Qualifications Reference Database Team (QRDT)

School Performance Data Unit

Education Data Division

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“Ssshhh, don’t tell anyone…..”

So, here is the latest.

The bit I love the best is that the “experts” are nationally renowned but “sshh, don’t tell anyone”….

Dear xxxx xxxxxx,RE: Discount Codes 2014

I refer to your request for an internal review for case reference number 2013/0014523 which was received on 2nd April 2013. You appealed the decision to “withhold the names of subject experts who were consulted for advice about new discount codes under section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act.”

Your request for an internal review has been assigned the case reference number 2013/0022472.

The Department has now completed its internal review process and has carried out a thorough review of the case which I chaired as a senior officer who was not involved with the original request.

The Department has decided to uphold the original decision not to disclose the information concerned for the same reasons as previously stated as well as the further reasons explained below.

Arguments for the release

Considerations in favour of a decision to disclose are a greater transparency, making government more accountable to the public, the public interest in being able to assess the quality of advice being given and subsequent decision making and knowing the identities of experts to ensure that they are recognised as such.

Arguments against the release

It is the Panel’s view that the names of our subject experts are exempt under section 40 (2) of the Act.  Section 40 (2) provides for personal data to be exempt from disclosure, where its disclosure otherwise than under the Act would contravene any of the data protection principles under the Data Protection Act 1998.  Section 40 (2) is an absolute exemption in these circumstances.

Our subject experts are independent education consultants and national experts in their field, with strong knowledge of qualification content and the potential overlap between qualifications, and experienced in completing technical reviews of qualifications, including the analysis of structure and content.  They were recruited under contract and according to that contract DfE agreed ‘not to disclose the other party’s Confidential Information to any other person without the owner’s prior written consent’.  The subject experts have expressly refused consent to disclosure of their names as they believe it would be likely to contravene the data protection principle that personal data is ‘fairly and lawfully processed’.

We are introducing a further exemption as we believe information you have requested is also exempt under section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, because it is considered to be commercially sensitive information.

Section 43 provides for information to be exempt from disclosure where disclosure under this Act would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person. This exemption requires a public interest test to be carried out, to determine whether the public interest in withholding the information, outweighs the public interest in its release.

The awarding of contracts to external bodies involves the expenditure of public funds. There is a strong public interest in ensuring transparency in this process and in there being accountability for publicly spent money within the Department. This is to ensure that public money is being used effectively and that the Department is getting value for money.  It is also important to ensure that procurement processes are conducted in an open and honest way.

However, the general public interest in releasing the information requested must be balanced against the public interest in protecting commercially sensitive information.

The release of the names of subject experts in this case would be likely to prejudice their commercial interests causing them to lose business.   Additionally advice given to the Department (or any other organisation) by these same experts may be undermined if released.  They do not work solely for DfE and have a negotiating power in this business area.  The disclosure of this information could also prejudice the Department’s commercial interests by adversely affecting the bargaining position during future contractual negotiations and deterring experts from working with the Department and providing advice in future, which could result in the less effective use of public money. It is therefore considered that it is not in the public interest to disclose the names of subject experts, as this information is not already publicly known and would be likely to be used by competitors in a particular market to gain a competitive advantage.

After reassessing the arguments for and against it remains our view that the balance of public interest falls in favour of the exemption in relation to the information you have asked for.

If you are unhappy with this decision, you have the right to appeal directly to the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:

                The Case Reception Unit
                Customer Service Team
                Information Commissioner’s Office
                Wycliffe House
                Water Lane
                Wilmslow
                Cheshire
                SK9 5AF

Further information about the Information Commissioner’s complaints procedure can be found on the Information Commissioner’s Office website:

http://www.ico.gov.uk/complaints/freedom_of_information.aspx .

Yours sincerely,

Colin Watson

Deputy Director, Test Development

Standards and Testing Agency

Level 6, Sanctuary Buildings

Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT

Tel:          020 7340 7523

Mob:       07771 973 216

Discount Codes – our open government

Well, here it is – the answer to my freedom of information request. I will now be appealing….

Dear xxx xxxxxxxx,

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 1 March 2013.
Your request was as follows:
I would like to formally request the following information under the Freedom of Information Act, so that we are able to pursue this with our local MP and the Department of Education:
• Please can you identify by name the subject experts you refer to who were consulted in relation to the application of discount codes to all subjects
• Please can you provide the written recommendations from all the subject experts regarding all the new discount codes
• Please can you provide the minutes of meetings where the decisions were made regarding the application of new discount codes and the final decisions in relation to the different recommendations from these subject experts
This will allow me to be able to pursue with those responsible further explanation, such as, for example, why two different Performing Arts disciplines are being treated as if they are the same, but two Design Technology subjects, which share the same specification heading, as is the case with “Design Technology: Food” and “Design Technology: Product Design”, are treated as separate.
I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”)
The Department is withholding names of subject experts who were consulted for advice about new discount codes under section 40(2) of the Act, on the grounds that release of the information would breach one of more of the principles of the Data Protection Act 1998. This exemption is ‘absolute’ in these circumstances, which means that it is not necessary for the Department to run a test to balance the public interest in release against that in withholding the information.
Furthermore, while the Department holds the information you requested in your second question, it is being withheld under section 35(1)(a) of the Act on the grounds that it relates to the development of government policy. Section 35 is a qualified exemption so the Department has applied the public interest test to your request, and has concluded that the balance of public interest falls in favour of the exemption in relation to the information you have asked for.

Considerations in favour of a decision to disclose are a greater transparency, making government more accountable to the public, the public interest in being able to assess the quality of advice being given and subsequent decision making. Considerations against a decision to disclose information are that there may be a deterrent effect on external experts who might be reluctant to provide advice if it might be disclosed, narrowing the advice available, and the impartiality of the civil service might be undermined if early policy advice was routinely made public leading to poorer decision-making.
The Department does not hold the information you requested in your third question.
As already outlined to you, the learning objectives and assessment requirements are generally adaptations of one another, designed to recognise the variations and options within the wider field of the performing arts but in most cases the knowledge base and the cognitive demands are very similar. Even where the skills focus is clearly different the specifications still explore similar learning processes and often highly interchangeable knowledge and skills. In comparison although all GCSEs in Design and Technology cover skills in research, design, development, planning and creating a product and testing and evaluation, the skills and knowledge required for eg Food technology and Resistant materials are very different with no overlap in knowledge and skills.

Following the current consultation on 16-19 vocational reform a list of high-value 16-19 vocational qualifications that will be included in the 2016 KS5 performance tables will be published and we will follow a similar process to update the discount codes used for the KS5 performance tables from 2016 as we did for the 2014 KS4 performance tables. We will continue with the existing discounting process in use in the KS5 performance tables until 2016.

Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2013/0014523. If you need to respond to us, please visit http://www.education.gov.uk/contactus, and quote your reference number.
Yours sincerely,

Data and Statistics Division
http://www.education.gov.uk

Discount Codes – the saga continues

For those of you who have read my previous post on the new discount codes, I have now had a response to my query from a statistician in the Department for Education. I will continue to pursue this until I have a response from an educationalist.

Their response to my concern and my response are below:

 

From: Attainment.STATISTICS@education.gsi.gov.uk [mailto:Attainment.STATISTICS@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Sent: 01 March 2013 08:50
To: (Me)
Cc: Attainment.STATISTICS@education.gsi.gov.uk
Subject: Discount Codes 2014

Dear (Me),

RE: Discount Codes 2014

Thank you for your email received on 22nd February regarding discount codes.

Historically, discounting has only been applied in the performance tables within qualification types or “families”.  For example, GCSEs and other qualification types have traditionally not discounted each other.  This is because in the past there has been little overlap in the subject content of qualifications from different families.  But over time discount families have become increasingly less meaningful as differences between the subject content of some GCSEs and other qualifications have diminished.  With the changes to the performance tables from 2014, the restricted number of qualifications that will count in the tables and each qualification only counting as “one”’, the Department has reviewed the discounting arrangements from 2014.

We have always made clear in any written information about discounting that discount codes may be updated at any time during the year without prior notice to improve the quality of discounting by ensuring that we continue to discount qualifications that cover the same material so that we aren’t crediting the same achievements more than once in the performance tables.  We do try not to change discount codes regularly once they are set.  The reason for changes at the moment is specifically to adjust to the changes to the Performance Tables from 2014.  This work is on-going.

A qualification is assigned a discount code on the basis of the subject area it covers.  The purpose of a discount code is to gather qualifications with similar content together and compare them to other qualifications with that code to ensure that where pupils take more than one qualification in the same subject area, the performance tables only give credit once for teaching a single course of study.  Some qualifications particularly in art and design and performing arts have until now had discount codes at the syllabus level (but only where AOs have provided syllabus information and results are provided at the syllabus level). 

With the help of subject experts, we have compared specifications of qualifications in the same or similar subject areas both across and within the old discounting families.  The advice we received was that these qualifications should discount one another due to the degree of shared and equivalent content and the similarity in the qualification objectives and assessment requirements.  The areas they explore are effectively permutations or varied interpretations of the same subject disciplines and vocational areas.  The current system allows a form of double counting which provides an incentive to pursue two similar qualifications in an inappropriately narrow field for educational development at this level.  The learning objectives and assessment requirements are generally adaptations of one another, designed to recognise the variations and options within the wider field of the performing arts but in most cases the knowledge base and the cognitive demands are very similar.  Even where the skills focus is clearly different the specifications still explore similar learning processes and often highly interchangeable knowledge and skills.   So new discount codes have been allocated at the qualification level which means that from 2014 only one GCSE (or GCE AS level) from one performing arts syllabus will count in the performance tables.

I hope that this provides the information that you require. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kind Regards,

xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx

 

 

Dear (xxxxx xxxxxxxxx),

Thank you for your response. I appreciate your lengthy response, but unfortunately most of it is explaining what discount codes are. I already know what discount codes are. My specific concern was that decisions were being made which I believe are based upon inaccurate and ill-researched opinions.

The section of your response which seems to begin to deal with this is as below:

With the help of subject experts, we have compared specifications of qualifications in the same or similar subject areas both across and within the old discounting families.  The advice we received was that these qualifications should discount one another due to the degree of shared and equivalent content and the similarity in the qualification objectives and assessment requirements.  The areas they explore are effectively permutations or varied interpretations of the same subject disciplines and vocational areas.  The current system allows a form of double counting which provides an incentive to pursue two similar qualifications in an inappropriately narrow field for educational development at this level.  The learning objectives and assessment requirements are generally adaptations of one another, designed to recognise the variations and options within the wider field of the performing arts but in most cases the knowledge base and the cognitive demands are very similar.  Even where the skills focus is clearly different the specifications still explore similar learning processes and often highly interchangeable knowledge and skills. 

This section begins to address my concern, but I am very surprised at your reference to “subject experts” without going into further detail. It is clear that somewhere, the decision has been made that the performing arts “are effectively permutations or varied interpretations of the same subject disciplines”, but Biology and Human Biology are not. As a result, I would like to formally request the following information under the Freedom of Information Act, so that we are able to pursue this with our local MP and the Department of Education:

  • Please can you identify by name the subject experts you refer to who were consulted in relation to the application of discount codes to all subjects
  • Please can you provide the written recommendations from all the subject experts regarding all the new discount codes
  • Please can you provide the minutes of meetings where the decisions were made regarding the application of new discount codes and the final decisions in relation to the different recommendations from these subject experts

This will allow me to be able to pursue with those responsible further explanation, such as, for example, why two different Performing Arts disciplines are being treated as if they are the same, but two Design Technology subjects, which share the same specification heading, as is the case with “Design Technology: Food” and “Design Technology: Product Design”, are treated as separate.

Please would you acknowledge receipt of this request.

 

Yours,

Me

Letter to my MP – Discount Codes

I have sent this letter this morning to my local MP. I would urge others to make similar representation.

I would like to ask you to discuss with your colleagues at the Department of Education our deepest concerns about the restructuring of the discount codes for KS4 and P16 subjects. You will be aware that there is currently a system of using discount codes to link subjects that have similar content, skills and understanding. This means that a school that enters a student for English GCSE with four different examination boards will have only one recognised in the school performance tables. This is an appropriate system to tackle what some have called “gaming” and protects a student from wasting learning time on additional qualifications which do not move the student on with their learning.

 

However, the recent (and retrospective for 2014 performance tables) changes to the discount codes are alarming as they do not seem to recognise the needs of students. You will be aware that we are an Arts College, with very successful outcomes for students studying Art in P16. Not only that, but our contribution to the local cultural climate is significant, having only just this week having been asked to make a significant artistic contribution to an event, which will place the work of our students on the national and international stage.

 

The recent changes to the discount codes mean that a student studying separate A Levels in Textiles and Photography will have only one of these qualifications included in the school performance tables. This means that there is a clear disincentive for a school to support a student in following this combination, or indeed any combination of two Art based courses, whether that be, for example, Fine Art, Graphics or Sculpture.

 

We have a significant number of students who choose to stay at our school to follow courses in Art and then progress on to specialist Art courses in Higher Education. It now appears that the DfE is clearly making it very difficult for students to make these kind of choices, or where they are supported by the school, the school itself will be penalised. Our school is penalised for supporting students making choices within the Arts, students who have discussed with us and their parents their future intentions and have chosen appropriately.

 

As you look through the list of courses that have now been given the same discount code, you will also see that the Department of Education sees Dance and Drama as effectively the same subject, having given them the same discount code.

 

When I see this I become deeply concerned that the Department for Education has little idea about what these subjects involve.