Q. Request for information from police. You have received a call from a police officer requesting information about a child or family.
A. Whilst we would assist the police with their enquiries, there is a misconception that the police have an automatic right to personal information. Before any information is given, there is a form which they should complete and that a senior officer should sign. It gives details of information sought, explanation of grounds - e.g. reason to believe that the information will assist with the detention or prevention of a crime.
Q. Minutes of meetings. If the minutes are marked 'confidential' do we have to release them if asked to do so under Freedom of Information?
A. Just because a document is marked 'confidential' it does not mean it is automatically exempt. Each document needs to be checked to ensure it actually is confidential (would there be an actionable breach of confidence if released - could the person who provided the information take us to court?) before it can be withheld. Confidentiality lessens with age - something confidential now may not be in 6 months time.
Q. Does the FOI act apply to businesses which receive public funding or provide a service for Kent County Council?
A. They would need to be made aware of how the FOI Act may affect them, if we get a request for information about our contract with them we may need to release the information. This means that the information they provide to us and may provide in the future to the council will be subject to the FOI Act. Only public authorities themselves are required to respond to requests, so a requester cannot apply direct to the service provider.
Q. A parent has requested a copy of their child's records.
A. Children have the same rights of access to their own personal data as adults, and the same rights of privacy. In some cases children will not be able to make the request for their own records. The rights of access will depend on the legal capacity of children as defined by the law in the relevant country. There is no minimum age in English law. However, current practice accepts that, provided a child is considered capable of giving consent, a child of or over the age of 13 years shall be considered to have 'legal capacity'. But this does not rule out receiving a valid request from a child of a younger age, as each request should be considered on its merits on an individual basis.
If a parent or legal guardian makes a request on behalf of a child, the request will only be complied with when you are sure that the child has authorised the request and that their consent was not obtained under duress or on the basis of misleading information. If the child does not understand, then a request from a parent or legal guardian for the child's information will only be complied with when assurances are received that they are acting in the best interests of the child. However a parent does have an automatic right to their child's official education record which falls under The Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2005. A fee of up to £50 may be charged (sliding scale from £1 to £50) and you must respond with 15 school days.
Q. CCTV. Are schools able to Install CCTV in playgrounds or toilets?
A. The Data Protection legislation does not appear to prohibit the use of CCTV in toilets or classrooms. However it does specify that the processing of personal information must comply with certain principles intended to protect the interests of those whose personal information is being processed.
In this situation it would be reasonable to expect the following:
- The school puts up signs indicating that cameras are operating
- Cameras in toilets would be fixed on washbasins and entrances areas only
- Restriction of staff members able to monitor footage
- School to establish remit for use of footage (e.g. monitoring of bullying or vandalism for disciplinary or police action).
Q. If an estranged dad asks for details of his child's education achievement do we disclose it to him?
A. Everyone who is a parent has a right to participate in decisions about a child's education. Schools have been supplied with guidance explaining who is a 'parent' for the purposes of education legislation (mainly to deal with non-resident parents who wish to be involved with their children's education).
The Definition of a 'parent' is (section 576 of the Education Act 1996):
- all natural parents, whether they are married or not;
- a person who, although not a natural parent, has parental responsibility for a child or young person; or
- any person who, although not a natural parent, has care of a child or young person.
Schools and the local authority (LA) must treat all parents equally, unless there is a court order limiting an individual's exercise of parental responsibility. The school should ask for proof that an ex-partner is indeed the child's natural parent.
Q. Is it appropriate for pupils helping out in the school office at break time to answer the telephone and take messages?
A. The pupil must be aware of confidentiality and should not unwittingly disclose any personal information if questioned by the caller. The pupil should inform the caller that an adult is available should they prefer to speak to one.
Q. If a pupil is known to a school under a different name to their registered name, how should the school refer to the pupil?
A. For official purposes the registered name of the pupil must be used. For all other occasions the school may use the preferred name of the pupil.