The government has asked key players in the education sector to sign a gagging clause to stop discussions about schools' response to the coronavirus pandemic from "falling into the public domain", Tes can reveal.
Members of the Covid-19 Response School Stakeholder Advisory Group for the Department for Education (DfE) were asked to sign a "personal confidentiality agreement", in an effort to "protect the secrecy" of information discussed in closed meetings.
Tes understands that the DfE's advisory group meets on a fortnightly basis with schools minister Nick Gibb and senior DfE official Andrew McCully, and consists of major players in the education sector.
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In the weeks the group does not see the schools minister, Tes understands that members meet with other civil servants.
The confidentiality agreement, seen by Tes, states that – while the DfE wants members to share their views "freely" within the group – it expects they "will not blog or tweet details of the groups' business or share their opinions of the progress of the group in public".
One member, who wished to remain anonymous, said they had refused to sign the document.
"We can always respect confidentiality, but to be sworn to secrecy in a way that could mean that we end up having to mislead or withhold information from our members is something that frankly we couldn't countenance," they said.
"I hope that government sees sense on this and says, you know, look, we need to have conversations with our trusted stakeholders rather than viewing them as part of the problem."
Another member, who agreed to sign the document, said they were "taken by surprise" by the request to sign a gagging clause, given the "whole ethos of looking for transparency" in relation to the Covid-19 crisis.
The same member told Tes that the advisory group met for a meeting on Wednesday morning, shortly after 10am.
They said no mention was made of the "huge summer of catch up" that prime minister Boris Johnson promised for pupils at the daily coronavirus briefing, just a few hours later.
The member added that the meeting "didn't feel like a valuable use of time".
Tes understands that the Covid-19 Response School Stakeholder Advisory Group includes:
- NEU teaching union
- Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)
- NAHT school leaders' union
- NASUWT teaching union
- Chartered College of Teaching
- National Governance Association (NGA)
- National Confederation of School Trusts
The DfE has been approached for comment.
Read the confidentiality agreement in full below:
I confirm that while sitting on the COVID-19 Response School Stakeholder Advisory Group for the Department for Education ("the department", "we" or "us"), I will abide by all the terms of this confidentiality agreement.
We want all members to share their views in the group freely, and although the information presented may appear in the public domain, we are asking members of the advisory group to keep details of the work confidential (i.e. we expect that members will not blog or tweet details of the groups' business or share their opinions of the progress of the group in public).
I declare that I will:
(i) do all that I reasonably can to protect the secrecy of and avoid disclosure or use of confidential information in order to prevent it from falling into the public domain or the possession of persons not authorised to have such information. I shall take the highest degree of care – at least the same as I would use to protect my own confidential information and;
(ii) inform the department promptly in writing about any misuse or unauthorised disclosure of confidential information which I become aware of.
My obligations under the above agreement will continue indefinitely.