Ministry ordered to release names of charter school applicants

By Kate Shuttleworth

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the Education Ministry release the names of 36 applicants wanting to set up charter schools.

In a report released today Ombudsman Professor Ron Paterson has ruled there were no grounds for withholding the names of the groups and they should be released within 21 days.

He said the ministry had no statutory grounds for withholding the names of organisations which submitted an indication of interest.

"After consideration of the relevant facts and of the statutory grounds for withholding advanced by the ministry, I have formed the opinion that no good reason exists to refuse the request,'' he said in the report.

The ministry said it would comply with the order.

Former Act Party president Catherine Isaac and chairwoman of the Partnership School Working Group was found in the report to have assured two applicants they would remain anonymous as one had said they could be harassed for wanting to set up a charter school.

An initial list of 34 expressions of interest were released in parts to the media. Later requests for the full list of 36 expressions of interest were declined by the Ministry of Education in order to protect two unknown applicants from ``harassment''.

The Office of the Ombudsman received a complaint from Shelley Nixon from the New Zealand Educational Institute.

Her request for the list was refused in order to enable a Minister of the Crown, or a department holding the information to carry out negotiations without prejudice or advantage.

"The ministry suggested that named applicants might also be subject to harassment or threats. Dealing with media enquiries, lobbying, harassment or threats would mean that named applicants would be at a disadvantage during the negotiations with the ministry compared to applicants who had not submitted an indication of interest, and whose names were not publicly available,'' Professor Paterson said in his report.

Education Secretary Peter Hughes told the Ombudsman Ms Isaac's concerns over harassment were "very real''.

Professor Paterson said it was important to make clear that any organisation subject to the Official Information Act can never be guaranteed complete confidentiality.

The report refers to the two schools who asked to remain anonymous as School A and School B.

School A wrote to the Ombudsman saying: ``if the Working Group cannot guarantee out confidentiality at this stage we request that our submission be withdrawn and to be notified immediately.''

The school told him it was concerned that if it was named it would impact on the viability of its existing operations.

School B was concerned that if it was named, staff may leave and it would be harder to recruit good teachers.

Ms Isaac said she would not comment and that the ministry could answer questions.

- NZ Herald

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