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Chapter 23 School records and handling information

This chapter describes the role and responsibilities of the Board of Governors in terms of the keeping, maintaining and transfer of pupil records. It also includes the requirements of the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act relating to the handling of requests from members of staff, pupils, parents and the general public for information held by a grant-aided school.

In this chaper:

Role of the Board of Governors

The role of the Board of Governors is to ensure that the arrangements operated by the school for the retention, management and release of public records comply with statutory requirements.

23.1. Record keeping and the storage of information are important functions of both the administration and teaching staff of a school. School records include those pertaining to personal details of pupils, along with those of their academic performance; assessments and examination results; school policies; minutes of school-based meetings; including information received from the Department of Education (DE) and other education bodies, solicitors, press organisations and public bodies.

23.2. The legislation which affects the retention, management and release of public records is listed at the end of this chapter.

Record keeping

23.3. Each school has a responsibility to maintain its records and record keeping systems. Although schools will have their own methods of creating and keeping records and sharing information with staff, students, parents and the general public, they should be aware that, in doing so, they need to take account of matters such as:

  • the most efficient and effective way of storing records and information, in other words, paper or electronic forms
  • the confidential nature of the records and information stored
  • the security of the record system/s used
  • privacy and disclosure
  • their accessibility and to whom they are accessible

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Records management

23.4. In reviewing their management of records, schools should consider:

  • doing an information audit to identify the nature and scope of the information currently held by them
  • ensuring that information is easily accessible to those who need access to it
  • adopting a Records Management Policy on the management of records
  • reviewing and implementing the disposal of information that is no longer required, by adopting a Disposal of Records Schedule

23.5. The Boards of Governors should be aware that each grant-aided school should have a Disposal of Records Schedule. A model 'Disposal of Records Schedule' has been approved for use by all schools in the North of Ireland (see Guidance documents below for access).

23.6. The school principal is responsible for ensuring that records and information systems conform to the agreed management policy of the school.

Pupil records

Legal requirements

23.7. Article 24 of the Education (NI) Order 2006 and the Education (Pupil Records and Reporting) (Transitional) Regulations (NI) 2007, set out the requirement for Boards of Governors to make arrangements for pupil records to be transferred, when a pupil transfers to another school.

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Arrangements relating to the transfer of pupil information when leaving a school

23.8. Schools keep a formative record of progress and achievement for each pupil. The Department is currently considering how the scope of this record should be defined for the purposes of transferring information, when a pupil moves to another school. Following its consideration, the Department plans to make further regulations about this. The new regulations will build on the provisions currently set out in the Education (Pupil Records and Reporting) (Transitional) Regulations (NI) 2007.

23.9. The current requirements are for Boards of Governors to make arrangements to transfer a formal record of a pupil’s academic achievements and progress, as well as their other skills and abilities, within 15 school days of a pupil transferring schools. This information should be transferred to the principal or Board of Governors of a school to which a pupil transfers. If a pupil transfers to an independent school, the information should be transferred to the principal or proprietor.

23.10. If the principal or Board of Governors of a school (or proprietor of an independent school) to which a pupil transfers, requests the disclosure or transfer of any other educational records kept by the school, these should be provided, again within 15 school days and a copy should also be provided to the pupil’s parent. Any information requested by a parent relating to their child’s formative record of progress and achievement, should be provided free of charge or, if the Board of Governors determines, for a fee which does not exceed the cost of supply.

23.11. Boards of Governors are required to keep a statement of the arrangements relating to the transfer of pupil records, when a pupil transfers to another school. The arrangements need to provide for the parent, pupil, or the principal or Board of Governors of a school (or proprietor of an independent school) to which a pupil is transferring, to appeal any decision refusing disclosure or transfer of information. Boards of Governors need to ensure, that in exercising their responsibilities, arrangements are not made for the disclosure, supply of copies, or transfer of any documents which are the subject of an order, under section 30(2) of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Access requests for information using legislation

23.12. Boards of Governors in all grant-aided schools have statutory duties under the Data Protection and the Freedom of Information Acts when dealing with requests for information from members of staff, pupils, parents and the general public.

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The Data Protection Act 1998

23.13. The Data Protection Act 1998 requires schools which collect and process personal information, to comply with a number of important principles regarding privacy and disclosure. As processors of personal information, schools must comply with the following eight principles which state that information must be:

  • fairly and lawfully processed
  • processed for limited purposes
  • adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • accurate and up to date
  • not kept for longer than necessary
  • processed in line with individuals’ rights
  • secure
  • not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

To comply with these principles every school processing personal data must notify the Information Commissioner under the terms of the Act. Failure to notify is a criminal offence. Schools may see their current notification by checking the Data Protection Register:

Your Employing Authority may be able to assist with this.

23.14. All schools must make sure that they comply with this Act which allows people such as members of staff, pupils and parents to find out what personal information is held about them in paper or electronic form. Members of the general public also have access to school information, such as minutes of meetings, policies and other types of non-personal information.

23.15. There are two distinct rights to information held by schools about pupils. in other words, the subject access right and the parent’s rights to the child’s educational records.

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The subject access right

  • A pupil has the right to see their own information. This includes information held on computer or in structured files or in their educational record or in unstructured loose correspondence.
  • Personal information may be withheld when the information is covered by an exemption in the Act.
  • The pupil must make a written request.
  • The pupil is not required to be of any particular age but the school should take account of the ICO guidance regarding age and whether the child has requested the parent to act on their behalf and if the child properly understands what is involved in making the request and the type of information they will receive.
  • Someone with parental responsibility can ask for the information on the child’s behalf and receive a response but again the school should take account of the ICO guidance on responding to such requests.
  • Parents will only be able to see all the information about their child when the child is unable to act on their own behalf or gives their consent. A pupil’s information must only be released to a parent or guardian, where to do so, is in the best interests of the child.

Rights to educational records

The parent’s right to a copy of their own child’s educational records. This includes a formal record of the pupil’s academic achievements, other skills, talents and achievements and educational progress and other records, defined in the Schedule 11 of the Data Protection Act. Information covered by an order under section 30 of the Data Protection Act does not have to be disclosed.

23.16. More detailed advice, including information about charges for the provision of information, exemptions and how an exemption applies and timescales for replies is available from:

  • the Information/Data Protection officers of the Education Authority
  • the Information Commissioner Office (ICO)
  • the NI Regional Office
    • Local telephone: 028 9051 1270
    • International telephone: +44 (0)28 9051 1270

23.17. Where a person believes that they have been prevented from seeing or acquiring information to which they are entitled, they can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

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The Freedom of Information Act 2000

23.18. The Freedom of Information Act came into force in 2005. In the context of schools, the Act deals with access to information and provides individuals or organisations with the right to request such information under the Act. Schools are also required to make information available proactively through a Publication Scheme. All requests for information should be handled promptly, but normally not later than 20 working days.

23.19. The Publication Scheme is a guide to the information which the school has committed itself to publishing, in other words, to make information routinely available on request. Schools must publish information in accordance with its scheme, which should be reviewed from time-to-time. In adopting or reviewing a publication scheme, Boards of Governors must have regard to the public interest in:

  • allowing access to the information that schools hold
  • the publication of reasons for its decisions

The Publication Scheme must set out:

  • 'classes' or categories of information the school publishes
  • the form in which the information is published
  • whether or not charges apply

Schools are free to publish information over and above that described in the model scheme.

In some instances, schools may charge a fee (calculated according to the Fees Regulations), for the release of information.

A model Publication Scheme for schools and guidance can be accessed on the ICO website.

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23.20. Some information is exempt from disclosure. The Act identifies exemptions categorised as ‘Absolute’ and ‘Qualified’. For example, in relation to personal information belonging to the requestor or if disclosure would result in an actionable breach of confidence, these are regarded as absolute and it is not necessary to go on to consider disclosure in the public interest.

If a school believes that the information requested is covered by a qualified exemption, it must apply the public interest test, in other words, the information is withheld because it considers that the public interest in withholding the information is greater than the public interest in disclosing it.

Please refer to the FOI Act 2000 for list of ‘Absolute’ and ‘Qualified’ exemptions, or access the ICO website for guidance on the FOI Act, including exemptions.

Request for information not routinely published by a school

23.21. The public has the right to request information held by a school which has not already been made available through its Publication Scheme. Requests for information must:

  • be made in writing or via email
  • include the name and address (if in writing) of the applicant
  • describe the information requested

Schools must tell the applicant whether it holds the information requested and normally provide it in the format requested as promptly as possible within 20 days.

23.22. Schools do not have to confirm or deny the existence of information requested or provide it if they can demonstrate that:

  • the request is vexatious or similar to a previous request
  • the cost of compliance exceeds an appropriate limit

If a school withholds information requested:

  • it will usually be required to explain to the applicant why they are not releasing the information by citing the appropriate exemption and considering the public interest test, where applicable
  • in all original decision notices, whether releasing information or not, schools should provide in their responses (normally issued by the principal), the contact details of an independent decision maker, to allow an applicant to seek an internal review of the decision, if they so desire. That person would ideally be the chairperson of the Board of Governors who will notify the applicant of their findings promptly, but normally not later than 20 working days. In the same decision notice, the applicant should also be advised, if they are not satisfied with the outcome of the internal review, then they have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner at
Wycliffe House
Water Lane

who will undertake an independent review.

It is a criminal offence for schools to alter, deface, block, erase, destroy or conceal information to prevent disclosure.

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23.23. More detailed advice about the Freedom of Information Act including the Publication Scheme for Schools is available from:

  • the Information/Data Protection officers of the Education Authority
  • the Information Commissioner Office (ICO)
  • the NI Regional Office
    • Local telephone: 028 9051 1270
    • International telephone: +44 (0)28 9051 1270

The law

Primary legislation

Data Protection Act 1998

Education (NI) Order 2006 - Article 24
(Provision of Information)

Freedom of Information Act 2000

Public Records Act (NI) 1923

Subordinate Legislation

Disposal of Documents Order SR&O 1925 No 167

Education (Pupil Records and Reporting) (Transitional) Regulations (NI) 2007 Statutory Rule No 43
(The keeping and transferring of pupil records)

Education (Pupil Reporting) Regulations (NI) 2009

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