There's no mystery to it: data should be shared

27th September 2013 at 01:00

Back in February, TESS asked for some information.

We had heard that Education Scotland held data on internet bandwidths in state schools. Interesting, we thought - there had been plenty of talk about schools where the internet was a no-go, so slow was their connection. So we asked the body to send us what it had.

We got no reply. Then we asked again, and again. Still nothing. We asked once more, on 20 March, this time under the Freedom of Information Act. On 5 April, we received a surprising response: Education Scotland held no such information.

We asked it to review the decision, making it clear that we remained interested even if the information had been compiled some time ago. Again, nothing. So we appealed to the Scottish information commissioner, Rosemary Agnew.

She discovered that a survey of local authorities and bandwidths had been carried out in 2012; other information on school bandwidths also existed. But Education Scotland said that its information was patchy, dated, unreliable and not what TESS needed.

The commissioner took a different view: it was not for Education Scotland to decide whether the data was any good. It could attach health warnings but not withhold the information.

On 16 August, the commissioner's head of enforcement ordered Education Scotland to supply the information by 30 September. At the time of writing, we were still waiting.

Meanwhile, Holyrood magazine was asking local authorities for information about bandwidths in schools. After many months, that information has finally surfaced (page 8). But once again, the process was far from straightforward and some authorities dragged their heels.

Education Scotland's new corporate plan was published yesterday. It's called "Transforming lives through learning".

The Scottish pharmacologist Sir James Black knew a thing or two about that, having won a Nobel prize for innovations in treating heart disease and stomach ulcers. His view on information was somewhat different from that described above, as he outlined in 1995: "In the culture I grew up in, you did your work and you did not put your arm around it to stop other people from looking - you took the earliest possible opportunity to make knowledge available."

There are, of course, philosophical questions about the difference between information and knowledge. Education Scotland felt its information on bandwidths to be inadequate and possibly misleading; anti-knowledge, if you will. But it's not for any public body to make such a judgement.

On page 59 of its corporate plan, Education Scotland lists the ingredients that the Scottish government deems crucial if public services are to help the country flourish. One reads simply: "Widen use of the internet".

Nice sentiment. What a pity those same services weren't keener to show just how much widening was needed.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk.

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