Official information

How should the school respond to requests for official information?

Schools are not regularly faced with complex decisions regarding official information requests.

You need to be aware that there are timelines to follow and particular requirements for the contents of a reply to an official information request. 

Receiving requests

Members of the public can request official information from boards of trustees of state and state integrated schools and boards need to respond to these requests.

It is important to note that if an applicant is a parent requesting information about their child, this is covered by the Official Information Act. But, if an applicant requests personal information about themselves, that request is covered by the Privacy Act.

To meet the requirements of the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) boards must release information unless there is a good reason under the act for refusing to do so.

A board has 20 days to decide whether to grant the request and tell the requester their decision. If the board does not give its decision within 20 days, that is deemed to be a refusal.

If the board refuses a request, it must give the reasons for its refusal and advise the applicant they have the right to make a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman.

OIA section 18 – Refusal of requests

What information does a school need to provide?

The Official Information Act 1982 aims to enable participation in decision making and to promote accountability by providing proper access to official information.

Official information means any information held.

OIA Interpretation section

The board is required to provide information relating to internal policies and decisions. 

If a student or parent requests documents which contain policies, principles, rules or guidelines used to make decisions or recommendations about them, then the board must give them access to those documents. 

When a school makes a decision about a student, or a parent in their personal capacity, the student or parent can request a written statement of the facts and information on which the decision was based and reasons for the decision.

When deciding what information to provide, you must weigh up the privacy of individuals against the public interest. For advice on this, read the Ombudsman’s guide:

Privacy – Office of the Ombudsman (scroll down to the title)

What happens if a complaint is made to the Ombudsman?

The Ombudsman can require the board to produce any information or documents which relate to the investigation.

School boards must comply with a requirement given by the Office of the Ombudsman within 20 days.

The Office of the Ombudsman has powers of entry and there are offences for obstructing an investigation.

Further information

The OIA and school boards of trustees – Office of the Ombudsman (scroll down to the title)

Updated: March 2014

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