Donald Maclean, Freedom of Information and Data Protection Officer at Perth College, recently successfully completed our certificated course; the Practitioner Certificate in the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Here Donald shares his experience and tips for future delegates:
I undertook this course in 2013, and was delighted to see a course that offered certification, and training days that were spread out over 5-6 weeks, which made it much more manageable in terms of my employer’s willingness to sign up for it.
The venue was lovely (overlooking Princes St Gardens in Edinburgh) and the quality of the training was first rate. The trainer (Tim Turner) had a plan, but was willing to take a tangent to address individual issues raised by participants. These tangents, and the highlighting of issues that arise in different types of public authorities, were amongst the most interesting aspects of the course. Examination of the law itself, and how it applies in reality, was detailed, accurate and certainly widened my understanding of the law. Information Commissioner decisions, related to individual aspects of the law, were particularly useful and enlightening.
The course helped me immensely in my job: in terms of added knowledge, procedural aspects, and confidence that decisions and replies would bear scrutiny if examined or challenged. Some aspects of FOISA procedure were altered after this course, to ensure that procedure would lead to the most appropriate and legally sound treatment of FOISA requests. I still keep course materials close to hand, and do still refer to them at times.
Feedback was supplied to my HR department and line manager, and I was able to report that I considered the course to be excellent value for money. Certification was useful in terms of acknowledgement of CPD activities, and also for my professional status.
I tended not to worry too much about the exam. It was made clear that if we did the required reading and familiarised ourselves with course materials and Information Commissioner decisions, we would have the knowledge necessary to pass the exam. So, I did the homework, read the course materials, and paid attention to the content of the Commissioner’s decisions. On the odd occasion during the exam when I drew a blank, I suspect it was due to age and failing memory. The only part of the course I struggled with was the interpretation of the case studies for the projects. I found it difficult to settle on an approach to the case studies, without getting so wide in scope that several scenarios would be required. Once I settled on a case study, and thought about the best approach, everything flowed fairly freely after that.
For future candidates I would recommend the following:
Do the homework.
Remain focussed during training sessions.
Read the course materials, particularly the procedural and exemptions materials.
Learn to pick up the key messages and facts being discussed, and note them briefly in your course materials.
Pay close attention to the reasoning included in Commissioner’s decisions, particularly when undertaking the project.
Ask questions. You usually get a pertinent and helpful reply, and it encourages group discussion.
Don’t worry about the exam. If you’ve listened, discussed and read course materials, you will be fine.
Enjoy the course and the access to expertise.
The Practitioner Certificate in the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 is suitable for the FOISA novice as well as the experienced practitioner. The next course is scheduled for May 2014. Thus far we have had very strong candidates from a variety of backgrounds.