Thick black lines block out key sections of the headteacher board meeting minutes released to Tes.
One of the reasons given by the Department for Education for these redactions may be as enlightening about the way today’s state-funded schools system operates as what lies beneath the marks.
“We found some information contained within the documents relates to the financial operations and planning of [academy] trusts or proposed trusts,” the DfE says in its freedom of information response. “The release of this information would likely prejudice the commercial interests of the trusts, as it is not already publicly known and would be likely to be used by competitors to gain a competitive advantage.”
This apparent government view of the charities that operate publicly funded not-for-profit schools, as businesses fighting for competitive advantage, has raised concerns among union leaders, who believe state schools should be collaborating.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is “surprised” that commercial interests should be cited to justify these literal cover-ups about academy trust information. “For me, it’s a language I don’t recognise in a self-improving system, which has to be predicated on partnership,” he says.
“Partnership is predicated on trust, so as soon as we start redacting things because of commercial interests, that language starts to raise concerns. Because the stakes are high, the more transparency there is, the better.
“All of us would recognise there are bound to be confidentiality issues, but talking of ‘commercial interests’ is hard to understand.”
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, describes “commercial confidentiality” as a “fig leaf” to hide information that the DfE does not want to release.
“It’s used as a catch-all to say ‘I don’t want to give this information away’, and that’s how I think it’s being used here. There should be no hiding behind commercial confidentiality when you are talking about multi-academy trusts, which are funded wholly by the public purse.
“It’s public money and taxpayers have every right to know it’s being spent in the public service.”
The DfE was contacted for comment.