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

“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