Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Official Secrets Act for schools

Trevor Mallard has posted the text of his member's bill to amend the OIA to prevent the public from using it to compile school "league tables". The relevant section:

6A School level assessment information must not be publicly released.

(1) Despite any other provision of this Act, organisations including, but not limited to schools, the Ministry of Education and the Education Review Office, must not publicly release school level assessment information.

(2) Nothing in subclause (1) prevents the release of information:
a. relating to an individual child to the parents or guardians of that child
b. the sharing of information between teachers and staff within a school environment
c. the sharing of information between schools, the Ministry of Education and the Education Review Office.

("School level information" is defined elsewhere).

There are a number of problems with this. In addition to being "class-based" (that is, targeting information based on its content or type rather than the interests its release might prejudice), it also categorically forbids release. And that has never been part of our OIA regime. While the OIA allows information to be withheld if there are good reasons for doing so, it doesn't make it mandatory, and an organisation can always just release information if they feel like it. This amendment would forbid them from doing that. It effectively recreates the Official Secrets Act specifically for schools. The "justification" for this - that the public might "misunderstand" or "misuse" the information - is decidedly authoritarian.

This is a nasty regression from Labour, and one which undermines a fundamental part of our freedom of information regime. Fortunately, it doesn't have a hope in hell of passing. Unfortunately, given mallard's seniority in the caucus, it has a real chance of becoming policy in 2011 - and that would be a real step backwards.