Scotland is in danger of having a “two-tier” freedom of information system if Scottish Government proposals to give grant-aided and independent special schools three times longer to deal with requests goes ahead, campaigners have warned.
The move would see these schools given 60 working days instead of 20 to respond to freedom of information requests.
The reason given for the proposed change is that these schools close in the holidays.
However, the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) say this could encourage other organisations asking for the same leeway.
Carole Ewart, convener of the CFoIS, described the proposal as a breach of ‘universal’ rights. Campaigners also say any change would affect the rights of vulnerable pupils attending special schools.
Ms Ewart said: “To increase the timescales for some schools will cause confusion about the law and have a disproportionate impact on the right of disabled children and their families.
“We are also alarmed that breaching the principle of universal application will tempt other potential providers – like housing associations, private companies or the third sector – to demand special treatment if and when they are covered.”
Ms Ewart added: “These proposals are excessive and disproportionate, extending the time so much that any information would be far less use to the requester, and it delays possible appeals to the Scottish Information Commissioner.”
It is understood the rational behind the proposals is that grant-aided and independent special schools do not have the back-up of local authority staff to deal with detailed requests.
A spokesman for the EIS teaching union, said: “The appropriate application of FOI policy is a matter for the Office of the Information Commissioner.
“While there can be significant workload and cost implications in servicing FOIs, particularly for smaller organisations, it is for the Information Commissioner to take a view on appropriate timescales responses as well as any reasonable exemptions from FOI response.”