Marion. The FOI exemption for schools.

We delivered some training today to a school in the north – we have a briefing for schools covering DP & FOI in a half day – and as usual prior to the training we did some research which included making a FOI request to the school. Right at the very end of the afternoon after the case studies and the questions the trainer asked if the school had received any FOI requests in the last 7 years. The head teacher sitting bravely on the front row shook his head. Others chimed in and consensus was milliseconds away when the trainer showed on the screen the screen grab of the request that had been made by email 19 days ago using the school’s contact us page.

Silence and almost simultaneously darkness fell.

‘Looks like a request to me” intoned the trainer, “it’s asked for a biography of the Headteacher and details of his reimbursement package for the last financial year”.

Then Marion the school secretary who’d been sitting at the back spoke. “I might have seen that one” she chirped, ” but I delete anything that looks dodgy”.

“What’s dodgy?” ventured the trainer,

“The name, the email address – I don’t allow hotmail ever”, replied the determined administrator.

The trainer tested out a few requests that he knew had been sent to schools in general – the knife incident request, “deleted that” , The CRB question, “deleted that” and the realisation that Marion had set up a foiwall that had yet to be penetrated settled on the room.

Add in the lack of publication scheme, lack of privacy policy and lack of training and it’s clear there’s a lot of work to do in schools. We have a range of services from an online session to a full day in school with audit, policy work & training. See our website.

Marion is of course a pseudonym. Her real name was Margery.

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New items include commentary on latest Commissioner and Tribunal decisions.

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Act Now Book Draw Week 1

Book DrawThe winner of the first Act Now Book Draw was Jennifer Green from Babergh Council.

This week’s book is The Freedom of Information Act 2000 by Michael Supperstone QC and Timothy Pitt-Payne.

The next draw will take place on Wednesday 29th Feb at 9 am. Click here to enter the draw.

If you enter the draw and win, you give us permission to let others know that you have won (by e mail, on our website and by Twitter). If you do not want us to do this, please do not enter the draw. Any information we receive through this free draw will not be used for any other purpose.

The Save FOI Campaign

The Freedom of Information Act is under attack. What brought us the MPs’ expenses scandal and which has exposed public waste and bad decisions is now the focus of ill formed comment and criticism. Lord O’Donnell, Tony Blair and even David Cameron have all expressed regret and misgivings about FOI. This is all part of a move towards weakening FOI.

The current Post-Legislative Scrutiny will be used to undermine the principles of openness and transparency. Moving from qualified exemptions to absolute ones, introducing charges and reducing the costs limit are all being suggested. This will significantly weaken the Act and the publics’ right to know.

This is a dangerous moment for FOI. With the focus on austerity, and the media being busy in dealing with its own problems, it is time for all those who value democracy to voice their concerns and support the campaign to save FOI.

Act Now and let’s save FOI from Government meddling:

Read the Save FOI Blog:

Follow on Twitter:!/SaveFOI

Subscribe to the Twitter Paper:

Sign the e-petition:

We may pass your data to carefully selected third parties…

It started when I got a new Tesco credit card. The following day I went to an outlet retail park and bought a few T shirts from Cotton Traders, Craghoppers and similar stores. The next wednesday I received through the post a Craghoppers catalogue. I was intrigued. I’d used Craghoppers decades ago when I was young and fit but the only connection between me and them was my Tesco credit card. No-one in the retail park had asked for my address – they’d just taken payment. Had Tesco supplied my data to Craghoppers? I thought I’d find out. I made a subject access request to Craghoppers.

To  ‘’

Date Mon 18/04/2011 15:45

Dear Sir

My  address is xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. If you require anything further to validate this request please tell me.

Please supply me with any personal data you hold on me particularly about the mailing I have just received from you with the media code CE14 and 51574/38122A  516 in the right hand corner of the label.

Please tell me from where you obtained my address. This includes “any information available to the Data Controller as to the source of those data”. (Section 7 (1) (c) (ii) of Data Protection Act 1998).


Dear Mr xxxxxxxxx

Thank you for your recent email. The only information on our system is your name, address and details of an order you recently placed with us. It appears that until you placed this order none of your details were on our systems, this would indicate that the mailing data for the catalogue you received was sourced from a third party whom you have given permission to share your data. Your account now on our system does not have any mailing options activated.

If we can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kind regards

Craghoppers Customer Service Team

Hmmm. This says (I think) that until I bought a shirt (I’m a sucker for shirts) on Monday 18th April at 1552 they didn’t have any personal data on me at all. How then did they send me a catalogue?

I didn’t ask for my mailing options to be de-activated.

I never give my permission for a 3rd party to share my data (I am a DP freak)

It seems someone out there who is not Craghoppers sent me a Craghoppers catalogue. Hmmm… there’s work to do. Little did I realise it would mean many subject access requests and a story of subterfuge and data sharing…


My cat’s got no nose

Actually he’s suffering from coughing fits, lack of appetite and lethargy (but that’s irrelevant to the story) and my current vet isn’t making an accurate diagnosis. We’ve had several consultations which all require payment usually £20, boxes of expensive cat food for sensitive stomachs at £1 a pouch (Co-op 30p), an x ray (£200), an injection (£35) and a series of blood test (£77). In total we’re approaching £500 but he’s not getting to the root of the problem.

What would you do if your child wasn’t getting the right diagnosis? You’d ask for a referral to a hospital or maybe a second opinion. You might even ask to see your child’s medical records. But what do you do with a cat? There is no cat hospital and as far as I know there are no specialists or consultants who take over where vets get stuck.

I asked the vet for my cat’s medical history so I could transfer to another vet. He said no. Obviously Data Protection Act doesn’t apply here as I know only too well but who owns my cat’s medical records. Could it be the cat? Is it me or is it the vet? I can’t try Freedom of Information although it would catch doctors so exactly how do I get my cat’s personal data? Is it in the gift of the vet? And if he feels that it would affect his commercial interest if he let a captive cash cat move to another provider can he just say no? Who has any rights here? I might have encountered a grumpy old vet but can I appeal to the commissioner? Which commissioner?

Meanwhile my cat is wasting away. I have no confidence in his current medical practitioner but cannot move to another. I can’t access his data; I can’t use any law to force handover of the data. It’s a catastrophe.

Answers please (and awful puns) to with Tiddles in the subject line.

Act Now and bag a book

Starting today and continuing for some weeks – the Act Now Book Draw.

We have a selection of books relevant to the information/surveillance law sector by some well respected authors. We intend to give one of these books away for FREE every week.

We will put names of all entrants in a hat and draw a winner every Wednesday at 9am. This week’s book is Data Protection Handbook by Peter Carey.

Click here to enter the draw. The first draw will be on 22nd February at 9am.

If you enter the draw and win, you give us permission to let others know that you have won (by e mail, on our website and by Twitter). If you do not want us to do this, please do not enter the draw. Any information we receive through this free draw will not be used for any other purpose.

FOI and Datasets

 The Protection of Freedoms Bill, currently at the Report stage in the House of Lords, will amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 so that in the future public authorities will have greater obligations in relation to the release and publication of datasets. However this may also bring an opportunity to raise some much needed revenue. The key points are:

There will be a new duty on public authorities, when releasing datasets, to adhere to any request to do so in electronic form which allows its re-use where reasonably practicable.

  • Any dataset containing copyright material (where the authority holds the copyright) must be made available for re-use under a specified licence.
  • Publication schemes will in future contain a requirement to publish datasets, which have been requested, as well as any updated versions.
  • Such datasets will also have to be published in an electronic form capable of re use and any copyright material must be available for re use in accordance with the terms of a specified licence.
  • Public authorities will be able to charge a fee for allowing re use of any datasets containing copyright material.

If you want to know more click here to read Ibrahim Hasan’s detailed article.

FOI Update Workshop  – This and other FOI developments and cases will be discussed in our forthcoming FOI Update workshops in London and Manchester:

NEW FOI Podcast – Episode 27

In this episode Ibrahim Hasan discusses FOI developments and decisions during September and December 2011. This includes Commissioner and Tribunal decisions on:

  • Information in private e mails
  • Section 11 and providing summaries
  • Vexatious requests
  • Empty properties
  • The Qualfied Person’s Opinion
  • And disclosure of statistics

There is also a quick review of recent developments in the world of transparency and FOI. Click here to listen.

We have a few places left on our upcoming ISEB courses in Birmingham.

How to pass the ISEB certificate.

As we leave the exam season behind for a few months with over 50 Act Now candidates waiting on their results 2 months from now we think we’ve seen enough to offer a few words of advice.

Here are Ten Top tips and comments from candidates, certificate holders & former examiners that might help people thinking of attempting this.

  1. Take the big, expensive course. You knew we’d say that but there is the possibility of direct entry to the exam if you can satisfy ISEB that you have undertaken enough training but not many take the direct route. Those that do miss out on 5 or more days of networking, 5 or more days of practice questions, and many valuable tips from tutors, fellow candidates and previous candidates who have been through the process before. Some direct entry candidates have never seen an edpac sheet before, never written a practice essay, never experienced exam conditions and this takes 10% off their performance.

2. Attend every minute of every day of the course and do the Mock Exam. Experience shows that those who don’t pass often miss part of a day, don’t attend the mock exam, leave early because they have a train to catch  and miss out on valuable input.

3. Do all the work. If you’re given a homework then do it. If the tutor recommends to read a report or look up a web link do it.  We know and you know in your heart that “the dog ate my homework” is a lazy lie. If the question you should have done in detail turns up in the exam and you haven’t got the answer in your memory banks that’s 10% more.

4. Read the rubric. The exam paper asks you to answer section B questions with bullet points so don’t write an essay. It also asks you to answer section C questions with an essay so don’t use bullet points. It tells you which questions are compulsory and which are optional. Read the rubric. Some candidates don’t and this takes another 10% off.

5. Follow the instructions. There’s not enough room in this article to list every mistake here. Candidates are told to use the pencil to make horizontal marks in the grid to enter their candidate number. They use pens; they write the number in figures, they use diagonal lines, they also write in the date, the name of the exam (which they often get wrong), their own name etc.  They’re told to put a straight line through notes and include them with their answers – the use wiggly lines, strike them out, screw them up and put them in the bin. They are told to answer 4 out of 6 questions so they answer 3. (or 5 or in extreme cases 6). In a mock exam we found a candidate who used the pencil supplied for section A to write 20 pages of longhand.

6. Don’t annoy the markers. Make your script easy to read with spaces between points or paragraphs. The last thing a marker wants is a solid block of text 10 or 15 pages long.

7. Write legibly. Always avoid alliteration. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do. Spell proper and don’t make grammar mistakes.

8. Use some common sense. We’ve heard of candidates arriving after the exam has started or leaving before the end. Candidates who’ve attended a DP revision session and chosen to sit a FOI exam.

9. Don’t think you can get through by just attending the course. You have to put the work in. Reading and revision pays dividends.

10. Finally tales of the unexpected. We know of candidates who have been doing the job for years and doing it very well who have failed to pass even after 2 attempts. We also know of candidates who confused the subject information provisions with the duty to confirm or deny yet manage to pass. It’s not a lottery but you can improve your chances of passing by learning from others who have been through it.

Enjoy your exams. Our ISEB courses are available throughout the UK every quarter. You know where we are. Our next courses are in Birmingham starting in late February.

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