ICO rules against DfE in childcare cost data FOI case

Leading early years organisation the Pre-school Learning Alliance has called on the Department for Education (DfE) to publish research on the cost of delivering childcare that it commissioned to Deloitte, after the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruled the charity’s favour in an ongoing Freedom of Information dispute.

The DfE commissioned Deloitte to undertake research to support a governmental review of the cost of delivering early education and childcare. However, while the overall review (‘Review of childcare costs: the analytical report’) was published in November 2015, the Deloitte research – which focused on the cost pressures facing early years providers and was referred to numerous times through the report – was never published.

In January 2016, the Pre-school Learning Alliance filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the research, which was rejected by the DfE on the grounds that the information was held by Deloitte, not the Department. An appeal by the Alliance was rejected on the same grounds.

The Alliance took the case to the ICO, which has now formally rejected the Department’s argument and ruled that the information held by Deloitte is held “on behalf of the DfE”. The Freedom of Information Act states that “information is held by a public authority if … it is held by another person on behalf of the authority”.

As such, the DfE must issue a fresh response to the Alliance’s request within 35 days.

Commenting on the decision, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said:

“We are very pleased that the Information Commissioner’s Office has ruled in our favour and agreed that the Department for Education’s argument that it doesn’t not hold research that it itself commissioned, and subsequently used, does not wash.

“The research commissioned by the DfE to Deloitte played an integral role in its review of childcare delivery costs, and by extension, the development of the new early years funding rates due to come into effect next year. As such, this information should be made public and open to scrutiny, especially given that so many in the sector do not believe that the new funding rates are in fact enough to cover the cost of delivering funded places. 

“Given that the ICO was unequivocal in its judgement, we hope that the DfE will now make this research available to us without any further delay.”

The ICO judgement comes shortly after the Alliance voiced concerns about the delayed publication of a report on ‘the cost and funding of early education’, commissioned to economic consultancy firm Frontier Economics as part of the DfE’s Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) project. The final report was returned to the DfE by Frontier in July, ahead of the launch of the government’s early years funding consultation, but has still not been made public.

For further information or to interview, Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, please contact:

Emma Caldwell
Pre-school Learning Alliance
T: 020 7697 2598
E: Emma Caldwell

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Editor's Notes:

The ICO decision note stated: 

  • "The local conclusion of the DfE's argument would appear to be that it is being required to take on trust that the consultations [of the Deloitte research] have not simply been plucked out of thin air but are based on appropriate research/evidence."
  • "Having carried out research for the sole benefit of the DfE, the Commissioner considers that it is not plausible to suggest that the research information is not held by Deloitte on behalf of the DfE and that the DfE is not able to access that research when the report was carried out on instructions from and funded by the DfE."
  • "The Commissioner considers it unlikely that the DfE would commit to investing over £1 billion more per year on childcare funding by 2019-2020 as the result of a review comprising research conclusions where those research conclusions had not been verified by the department itself and where such conclusions were based on research which the department is unable to access of check."

About the Alliance:

  • The Pre-school Learning Alliance is the largest and most representative early years membership organisation in England. A registered educational charity, it also provides high-quality affordable childcare and education to support children and families in areas of deprivation throughout the country.
  • The Alliance represents 14,000 member settings and supports them to deliver care and learning to more than 800,000 families every year. We deliver family learning projects, offer information and advice, produce specialist publications, run acclaimed training and accreditation schemes and campaign to influence early years policy and practice.