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BCS Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information

Course Overview

The BCS Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information offers an in-depth practical examination of FOI and EIR. An accepted mark of achievement, award holders, are often selected to lead disclosure practices of publicly held information within their organisation, department or authority.

This BCS accredited course explores the rights people have to know about the activities of public bodies, except where there is a valid reason for non-disclosure. It examines how transparency and openness are integral to the degree of trust and confidence placed in public authorities. And how being accountable opens debate, ultimately leading to the development of more efficient public services.

The course requires participants develop a thorough understanding of the access requirements under the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations along with other associated legislation. It covers the process and mechanisms used to administer the release of information held by, or on behalf of, government departments and public authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Delivered over 5-days the course follows the latest BCS Syllabus. Participants will also receive a separate 1-day course to help prepare for the BCS Practitioner Exam. The BCS exam is a 3-hour closed-book examination comprising three sections.

Who should attend

This course is intended for:

  • Freedom of Information Managers
  • Environmental Information Regulations Managers
  • Information Governance (IG) and Information Assurance (IA) professionals (all grades)
  • Records Managers working in the public sector
  • Data Protection Officers working within the public sector
  • FOI lead officers within an industry sector carrying out a public function or service e.g. Utilities & Housing Authorities
  • Lead FOI officers within relevant public-private partnerships
  • Solicitors advising on information law and press officers

Included in this certification is a free 12-month BCS Associate membership. Please click here for terms and conditions.

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Learning Objectives

By obtaining the Practitioner Certificate, individuals will:

  • Hold the leading practitioner level accredited qualification in Freedom of Information
  • Develop a deep appreciation of FOI in its widest context, its interaction with EIRs, DPA and other associated legislation
  • Have the confidence to lead organisational compliance for both FOI and EIR
  • Be able to give advice and support on relevant information handling standards and frameworks
  • Understand the types of information likely to be requested along with those required to be made available within a Publication Scheme
  • Be equipped to develop Freedom of Information policies that cover the processing and monitoring of:

- the receipt of a new information request through to disclosure, and

- the application of appropriate legal exemptions or exceptions from disclosure and the public interest test

- the calculation of fees where applicable

The BCS Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of information aligns with the vocational qualification QCF Level 4. Note, this link is advisory and for comparison purposes only. Ofqual does not regulate BCS qualifications.

Course Content

Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information (PC-FOI) Syllabus

This professional certification is not regulated by the following United Kingdom Regulators - Ofqual, Qualification in Wales, CCEA or SQA.

1. Context: Origins and Background (1.0 hours of course work)

The objective is to ensure an understanding of the purpose of the legislation. It is recommended that only one hour of study is spent on this topic. This depth of study can only serve as an overview of this topic. However, it should develop an appreciation of the intentions of Government to promote openness and transparency in public institutions which are relevant to the consideration of the public interest in disclosure decisions.

2. Definitions and Scope of the Legislation (5 hours of course work)

A. What the legislation does:

  • Imposes a duty to adopt and maintain a Publication Scheme
  • Provides a right of access to recorded information held by public authorities, without the need to mention, or even know about, the Act
  • Imposes the obligation, in most cases, to confirm or deny whether the information is held by the public authority
  • Creates exemptions from the duty to disclose information
  • Establishes the arrangements for enforcement and appeal
  • Requires Ministers to publish Codes of Practice

B. Application of the FOIA:

  • Bodies included in Schedule 1 of the Act itself
  • By order amending Schedule 1. Provision of available examples
  • By order adding any person that exercises functions of a public nature or is providing under a contract with a public authority any service whose provision is a function of that authority
  • Publicly owned company (including any corporate body)

C. FOIA and the private sector:

  • Information held on behalf of a public authority
  • Organisations designated as exercising a public function
  • Private companies whose information is held by a public authority

 

D. Who may apply and for what?

The applicant - any natural or legal person of any nationality, living anywhere, for any reason

Recorded information 'held' by a public authority

To be supplied in a 'preferred' format

3. Obligations and Responsibilities (10 hours of course work)

A. Good Practice:

  • Discharge of Functions Code of Practice (s45 FOIA)
  • Records Management Code of Practice (s46 FOIA)

B. Publication Schemes:

  • Duty to adopt and maintain an approved Publication Scheme
  • Model schemes and bespoke schemes
  • Charging policy
  • Duty to publish information in accordance with that Scheme (printed publications, public registers, web pages)
  • Duty to review the Scheme

C. Access rights:

  • Criteria for a valid request
  • Giving advice and assistance
  • Clarification of requests
  • Vexatious or repeated requests
  • Consulting third parties
  • Transferring requests
  • Duty to confirm or deny
  • Duty to provide information subject to application of exemptions from disclosure
  • Responses -  supplying requested information and refusals
  • Historical records
  • Copyright/intellectual property rights

D. Fees Regulations/Costs under FOIA:

  • Fees Regulations made under the Act
  • Fees Notices and prepayment

E. Time deadlines:

  • Regulations made under the Act
  • Variations and extensions under the Act

4. Disclosure/Non-disclosure (12 hours of course work)

Exemptions from disclosure

  • Absolute versus non-absolute exemptions
  • Class based exemptions
  • Prejudice tests
  • Public interest test
  • Ministerial certificates (under section 24, 25 and 53 of the FOIA)
  • Common law duty of confidence
  • Removal of exemptions: historical records

5. Enforcement and Appeals (2 hours of course work)

Enforcement powers:

  • Role and powers of the Information Commissioner
  • Information, Decision and Enforcement notices
  • Practice Recommendations

Offences:

  • Offence of altering etc. records with intent to prevent disclosure
  • Offences of obstruction, execution and warrant

Appeals

  • Internal review
  • Appeal to ICO
  • Appeal against notices of the ICO
  • Appeal to First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights)
  • Roles and powers of the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights)
  • Appeals to the High Court

6. Environmental Information Regulations (6 Hours of course work)

  • Scope of the Regulations (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland)
  • Definition of environmental information
  • Code of Practice relating to the Regulations
  • Interface with Freedom of Information and Data Protection legislation
  • Obligations imposed by the Regulations
  • Access rights: who may apply and for what
  • Time deadlines and related provisions
  • Charges for provision of environmental information
  • Exceptions from disclosure
  • Enforcement

7. Related Legislation (4 hours of course work)

A. Data Protection Act 1998

  • Definition of personal data
  • Sections 7 and 10 of the Data Protection Act 1998
  • Interface between Data Protection Act 1998 and FOIA
  • Amendments to Data Protection Act 1998 that relate to FOIA

B. Basic awareness and outline knowledge of the following, including their impact on FOIA:

  • Official Secrets Act 1989
  • Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985
  • Local Government Act 1972
  • Local Government Act 2000
  • Access to Health Records Act 1990
  • The Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005

The full BCS PC-FOI Syllabus can be viewed here syllabus on the BCS website.

Package includes:

  • 5-day BCS Accredited FOI Training Course
  • 1-Day Exam Preparation Online Training Course
  • Entrance to the separate 3-hour, 3-part BCS Examination

Courseware: the only FOI manual you will ever need

  • Comprehensive 220-page training manual comes in an A4 bound folder + an editable electronic version
  • Includes free lifetime updates (electronic version), which means it will never go out of date
  • Copy of the Freedom of Information Act & Environmental Information Regulation plus:

- Code of Practice (datasets) - Discharge of public authorities' functions under part 1 of the FOIA

- Section 45 Code of Practice - Request Handling

- Section 46 Code of Practice - Records Management

- Code of Practice - EIR

  • Electronic copy of the full course PowerPoint
  • Exercises & Revision materials
  • Prep day course materials with sample exam questions
  • You will also receive access to our free professional advisory service, potentially reducing the need for legal advice or consultation fees by supplying the right advice when you need it most

Exams & Certification

Exam Preparation Day

The topics covered in this session include:

Part 1. Online discussion and presentation

  • Exam technique
  • Timing
  • Completing the exam paperwork
  • How to break down BCS exam questions

- Reading questions properly

- Answering questions correctly

  • Exercises
  • Group discussion, 3 example questions

Part 2. Mock exam

  • 1 1/2 hour mock exam (50% of the exam paper)

Part 3. Discussion, Q&A, review of the mock exam

  • Group discussion, mock exam answers

Following the examination prep day, the instructor will evaluate each student’s mock paper and provide individual feedback. This will include direct comments on the answers, exam technique and offer guidance for further study areas.

Duration and Format of the Examination

The examination is a three-hour closed-book examination comprising three sections. The format is as follows with a balance of questions across the syllabus.

Section A:

10 multiple choice questions (1 mark each). All questions to be attempted.

Section B:

8 short answer bullet point questions (5 marks each). All questions to be attempted.

Section C:

6 essay questions from which the candidate must select two (15 marks each) and a compulsory Case Study (20 marks). The essay questions set out a practical or theoretical scenario and need to be answered in a methodical way as though you were briefing your chief executive on an FOI request.

The examination is held independently of the accredited course.

Pass Mark

The pass mark is 50/100. This equates to 50%

Distinction

Distinctions will be awarded to candidates who achieve 80 or more.

Format of the Examination

Type

10% multiple choice

40% short bullet point answers

50% discursive essays

Duration

3 Hours. An additional 45 minutes will be allowed for candidates sitting the examination in a language that is not their native language

Invigilated

Yes

Open Book

No

Pass Mark

50/100 (50%)

Distinction Mark

80/100 (80%)

Calculators

Calculators cannot be used during this examination

Delivery

Paper based examination only

Additional time for candidates requiring Reasonable Adjustments

Candidates may request additional time if they require reasonable adjustments. Please refer to the reasonable adjustments policy for detailed information on how and when to apply.

Additional time for candidates whose language is not the language of the exam

An additional 25% (45 minutes) will be allowed for candidates sitting the examination in a language that is not their mother tongue. If the examination is taken in a language that is not the candidate's native/official language, then they are entitled to use their own paper language dictionary (whose purpose is translation between the examination language and another national language) during the examination. Electronic versions of dictionaries will not be allowed into the examination room.

The full BCS PC-FOI Syllabus can be viewed here syllabus on the BCS website.

Course dates

Course

Start

Duration

Location

BCS Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information

30 Jul 18

5 days

Bedford

29 Oct 18

5 days

Bedford

Examination Events

When booking onto one of the above course dates, you will be asked to select the dates for your examination events.

Exam preparation day

Date

Duration

Format

We recommend choosing a date 4-8 weeks after attending the course.

6 Sep 18

1 day

online

6 Dec 18

1 day

online

BCS exam

Date

Duration

Location

We recommend booking onto a BCS Exam 4 to 6 weeks after preparation day.  

27 Sep 18

½ day

Bedford

17 Jan 19

½ day

Bedford

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