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Monday, May 24, 1999 Published at 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK


Parents to be given right to know more

Jack Straw wants parents to have more information about schools

Parents will be able to find out why their children have not been accepted by a school, under proposals for more open government.

The Freedom of Information Bill, presented to the House of Commons by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, is intended to make information more widely available to the public, including aspects of the administration of schools and local education authorities.

"Parents will be better able to find how schools apply their admissions policy," Mr Straw told the House of Commons, introducing the draft legislation which will affect public sector organisations, including schools and colleges, health services and the police.

[ image: Parents will be able to find out more about how schools admit or reject pupils]
Parents will be able to find out more about how schools admit or reject pupils
In striking the balance between the right to privacy and the public's right to know, the Home Secretary said that for "too long we have given insufficient weight to the right to know".

Schools and councils will be subject to "a general right of access to information held by public authorities", which Mr Straw said marked a "whole change in culture".

As well as providing more information on request, schools and education authorities will be required to set up systems for publishing information about how they reach decisions.

However the Shadow Home Secretary, Sir Norman Fowler, said there were so many exemptions to the requirement to make information public, that he cast doubt on whether there would be a substantial opening up of information.

Schools admissions have become the source of a growing number of disputes, with more parents contesting the decisions of schools not to give places to their children.

Successful schools, particularly in the larger cities, often have many more applications than there are places available. As such schools impose admissions rules, including how close families live to schools or whether they have a brother or sister at the school.

Under the freedom of information legislation proposed, parents would be entitled to apply to a school to find the specifics of why an admissions application failed.

However the legislation will not make school records about pupils or teachers available to a wider number of people. Information given in confidence will also be exempt from disclosure.

If parents want to challenge a school under the terms of the proposed law, there will be an "Information Commissioner" who will hear appeals.

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