Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge, called for Cambridge Assessment to be treated fairly by the Government in freedom of information law in a debate yesterday in Parliament. Cambridge Assessment, a major employer in Cambridge and a leading examination awarding body, is subject to freedom of information requests as they are part of Cambridge University. However, other exam boards are not subject to freedom of information requests under the Freedom of Information Act, as they are not seen as public entities – despite the fact that public money pays for them to award qualifications as a public service.
Mr Zeichner told Parliament “This skewed playing field for exam boards, does a disservice to Cambridge Assessment as it is treated differently to its competitors. Cambridge Assessment argue that the FOI Act should be extended to all exam boards; they use public money to perform a public service.“
“After writing to the Minister several times, meeting with her and her officials, and pressing for action, I received a terrible response just this week, where she stated that her discussions with the Education Minister resulted in the conclusion that although ‘the Minister of State agreed in principle that there are other awarding organisation that carry out functions of a public nature’, because ‘the Department for Education has undertaken significant reforms of A Levels and GCSEs, which has placed significant additional burdens on awarding organisations’, the ‘Government is currently not in a position to being another process of consultation and possible legislative change’. This is a particularly dreadful argument, even by this Government’s miserable standards. Because they’ve made some woefully unpopular and regressive education policy changes, they’re not prepared to make some which might improve the accountability and transparency of the way we educate our young people.“
Mr Zeichner comments: “I was really disappointed with the Minister’s attitude; this is not a new issue, I was first asked about it by Cambridge Assessment in a hustings event before the 2010 election! Public money must be publicly accountable, so it is right that we extend the Freedom of Information Act to cover private companies carrying out public service contracts. This has been argued for by trade unions, by the Labour Party, and by the Information Commissioner. It’s currently a carry-on behind closed doors, and it must stop now.“