Publication - FOI/EIR release

Communications regarding Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) appeal rates 2021: FOI review

Published: 15 Nov 2021

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Published:
15 Nov 2021
Communications regarding Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) appeal rates 2021: FOI review
FOI reference: FOI/202100243380 review of 202100208815
Date received: 26 Sep 2021
Date responded: 29 Oct 2021
Information requested

Your request, reference 202100243380
Any communication, internal or external, discussing / responding to concerns about the quantity of appeals that the SQA may receive in relation to any 2021 appeals processes. The time frame for this request is 1/2/2021 - 2/6/2021.

Your review request, reference 202100243380
Firstly, I would like you to carry out a full review of the processes used to search for and locate relevant information because I am not yet willing to accept that has been done properly. I have only received information from email chains, but government staff and ministers use a range of communication tools which would also be covered by FOISA (including, but not limited to, systems such as Whatapp, Slack, OneNote etc).

I must also insist that every single application of section 30 exemptions is reviewed because I see no evidence at all that the correct processes have been followed. As shown in the attached image, the Scottish Information Commissioner’s advice (which is longstanding and should not be news to FOI handlers at the Scottish Government and its agencies) makes clear that these exemptions can only be used where the apparent risks of publication meet specific standards arounds the “likely” and “substantial inhibition” of government work. The document provided to me simply offers a generic explanation for the use of these exemptions, and strongly suggests that, intentionally or otherwise, the officials in question have viewed and applied the s30 exemptions as a form of ‘class exemption’ (also prohibited by SIC advice). This clearly demonstrates that the government has not behaved correctly when handing my request for information and as such the quite ridiculous level of redaction in the response should be addressed.

Finally, I see no evidence that the government has properly applied the public interest test – or indeed that it has seriously considered this issue at all. Given the extraordinarily serious issues involved in this request, the number of young people affected by decisions made, the likely impact of this in other areas and future years, and the fact that everyone in Scotland has some sort of stake in the matters being explored, it seems clear to me that the public interest favours disclosure over the government’s preferred approach of secrecy.

Response

I have been asked to look at your request afresh, to decide whether the original response should be confirmed, with or without modifications, as appropriate, or that a fresh decision should be substituted. I can confirm that I was not involved in the handling or decision-making around the original response.

I have concluded that the original decision should be confirmed, with modifications.

In response to the specific issues you raised:

Firstly, you asked us to carry out a full review of the processes used to search for and locate relevant information. I can confirm that I have conducted such a review and am satisfied with the approach that was taken in the response to your original request.

You also asked that we review each application of section 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) exemptions. I have considered each case in which this exemption was applied. I have also considered the application of the public interest test for these exemptions and in cases where exemption 29(1)(b) was applied. In each case I have considered the application of the exemption and have weighed up whether the public interest is served best by withholding or disclosing the information.

In some cases I have decided that the public interest is served best by releasing information which was previously withheld. This information covers the relevant contents of draft minutes of the NQ21 working group meetings on 21 April 2021 and 28 April 2021, sections of letter and papers from the SQA Chief Executive to the Deputy First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and some of the advice from Scottish Government officials to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. This material has been attached as part of this response. For the enclosures which have been affected I have attached both the material originally released to you and the additional material being released under this review.

In the remainder of cases I have decided that the public interest is best served in withholding the information. I have considered each case separately although it is relevant to note that many of the applications of exemption 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) involve similar information being shared between similar parties.

In my view, the applications of 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) exemptions are correct, as the release of this information would be likely to have an inhibiting effect on the provision of advice and exchange of views.

It is also my view that, in these cases, the public interest is best served by withholding this information. I recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, I am satisfied that in these cases the public interest is better served by ensuring that officials feel confident in sharing views and advice to colleagues and Ministers.

About FOI
The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.

Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG