Jan 21 2013 By Ian Proctor
A COUPLE have accused a school of sending them ‘rude and insulting’ letters after they requested information on a refund they were due.
The parents of a child at Michael Sobell Sinai School in Shakespeare Drive, Kenton, told the Observer: “We were shocked and angry about various letters and emails received from the school. They were rude and very aggressive. They also gave us incorrect information. We believe that by sharing our experiences, the school will communicate with parents in a less hostile and more accurate way in future.”
As every year, in 2010/11, the school asked families for an annual voluntary contribution of £1,395 per child to fund its Jewish studies and additional security measures. Then the government announced it would underwrite some of the costs of security guards.
The family applied for the £180 reimbursement offered by the school – the largest Jewish primary in Europe with 680 pupils – after being told they would get the money once the school received it from the government.
However, the school was wrong because the Charity Commission was unable to untangle the problem of reimbursing Gift Aid claimed on the voluntary contribution, and therefore it offset the sum against the following year’s contribution.
Concerned at the way the affair was handled, the family lodged a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act request with the school in the summer of 2011.
Chairman of governors Lee Glassar wrote back: “Your request for pointless detailed information means you’re asking the school to drop what they’re doing and allocate resources to this, which I’m not prepared to sanction. What are you going to do with this information? You have the audaciousness [sic] to write countless letters to the school hierarchy demanding information. Until now I’ve found this scenario funny but now I’m offended for the school.”
The parents said: “Rather than speak to the school on the phone, we asked them to send us letters or emails about this matter instead. As a result, we have an indisputable record of the incorrect information we were given by the school and the insulting and aggressive way they communicated it.”
In April last year, the Information Commissioner’s Office decided Michael Sobell Sinai School had breached the FoI Act by failing to inform the parents if it held the information sought, by taking longer than 20 days to do respond and by failing to provide the correct advice and assistance. The parents, unhappy at the lack of criticism of the school, appealed to the First Tier (Information Rights) Tribunal for a revised ICO adjudication to the issued but the tribunal judge struck out the case at the end of August to save everyone time and money over what he described as merely an ‘abstract ruling’.
Mr Glassar said: “On reflection, I agree my letter was infelicitous and I regret its tone.
“On the issue of the FoI Act, the Information Commissioner ruled the school did not provide all information sought within 20 working days but by then all the information had been provided to [the family]. The ICO regarded this and related breaches as merely technical and therefore required no remedial action to be taken and imposed no penalty.”