When Joanne Bartley saw a bus go by with an advert for a local private primary school on its side, she knew there was something amiss.
“It just happens that I’d recently made a Freedom of Information request through WhatDoTheyKnow, to check 11-plus pass rates at various primary schools,” she explained. “I was researching whether wealthier schools had more success than schools in poorer communities.”
Joanne lives in Kent, which unlike many counties, still assesses children with the 11-plus test. The bus advert claimed that 94% of the school’s pupils passed it, giving them access to grammar school.
“I had never seen a pass rate as high as 94%, not even in prep schools which can be mostly about 11-plus tuition,” says Joanne.
“So I found the school’s true pass rate, which was much lower, and reported the school advert to the Advertising Standards agency. They upheld the complaint and the advert had to be withdrawn.”
What do small victories like this achieve? Joanne puts is succinctly:
“My FOI request meant that no more parents were conned into paying expensive school fees because of some dodgy statistic! Because most of the country got rid of grammar schools decades ago, the government doesn’t scrutinise the 11-plus test processes very much, and there’s little analysis of entry to grammar schools either.”
Joanne now works for a group called Comprehensive Future, which campaigns for fair school admission and an end to the 11-plus. FOI is a tool they frequently turn to.
“We use WhatDoTheyKnow an awful lot to look at social inequality in access to grammar schools. I use FOI to check how many disadvantaged pupils access the schools, to find out about appeals to these schools and more.”
The campaign’s findings frequently inform media in the education sector, national news stories, and even debates in Parliament.
“FOI requests helped us see the numbers of disadvantaged pupils in the schools that were given £64 million by the government to expand to admit more children from poorer backgrounds.
“And we had a story in the I newspaper, on the large percentages of privately educated pupils who attend grammar schools, based on this FOI request.
“We also looked at how few looked after children (children in care) attend grammar schools compared to other secondary schools and this was highlighted by a Conservative peer in a Lords debate.
“Baroness Berridge said: At the census date last year, 68 of our grammar schools had no looked-after children at key stages 3 or 4. That is a product of not giving priority admissions and selecting on the basis of the entrance test only. If I think back to my school and remove all those children, it would have been a poorer education.
“She must have come across the figure about looked-after children on your website as we hadn’t given it to anyone at the time. So you see WhatDoTheyKnow is a useful resource for everyone!
“The FOI Act means that there’s transparency around school entry, and this is a very healthy thing. WhatDoTheyKnow is also super useful to see what other people are asking about schools and see their results.”
We were glad to hear this: Joanne’s examples make it clear that WhatDoTheyKnow helps campaigns get their causes into the national conversation. It’s free, and available to everyone, and as you can see from the examples given, it can be a very powerful tool.
Joanne agrees: “I just wanted to show the power of your site to make a difference to campaigns like ours. Freedom of Information creates openness around a problem in education that is not much talked about.
“I love WhatDoTheyKnow – it’s made a real difference to our campaign.”