Free information fears;News;News and opinion

26th November 1999 at 00:00
NURSERIES, schools, colleges, and universities will be required to be more open with information for parents, providing them with details of their admissions and complaints procedures and disciplinary hearings.

The Freedom of Information Bill, published in last week's Queen's Speech, establishes a general right for access to information held by any public body, and includes specific references to schools' publishing their admissions policies.

But teacher unions are concerned that the Bill - and other parts of the Government's legislative programme for the coming year - could have unforeseen consequences for schools, and contribute to their administrative and bureaucratic burdens.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which has fought a long-running campaign against red tape, says 10 of the Government's Bills could impact on schools.

These include measures on children leaving care, sexual offences, local government, financial regulations, race relations, and crime - in addition to the freedom of information legislation, and the two proposed education Bills.

Chris Keates, the union's assistant secretary, said: "Schools are already overwhelmed with the information they are currently required to provide.

"That's not to say that some of this information should not be accessible, but we wonder how much liaison there is between government departments, when the Department for Education and Employment has pledged to reduce red tape."

She said the union may lobby MPs to make changes to the FOI Bill, when it comes before parliament.

But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, said the Bill could prove a benefit as well as a burden to schools.

"Schools would be able to get more information from universities and local education authorities - and the Government. For example, we want a lot more information from universities about admissions processes and criteria, and schools could benefit from knowing more about local education authorities' capital projects," he said.

Details of the FOI and other Bills are available on the internet at http: www.publications.parliament.uk

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