Can GDPR put pupil and teacher safety in jeopardy?

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Pupil and teacher safety being put in jeopardy by GDPR? |  Pupil and teacher safety is at risk due to data privacy law, claims a teacher. Incidents involving aggression, assault, suspensions and even criminal convictions are not always known in advance of a child has been admitted to a school. Due to data protection legislation, schools are not required to pass on information concerning violent pupils when they move to another school. A teacher told BBC News Northern Ireland:

Someone is going to get seriously hurt, ...How can staff or pupils ever really be kept safe if we don't know basic information like whether or not a child has a history of bullying classmates or assaulting teachers?

Pupil and teacher safety

Pupil and teacher safety

The teacher, who works at a Belfast secondary school, said he learned that a new pupil had assaulted a former teacher through another pupil. Apparently, this was after the child "lashed out" at a staff member. He said "I have been in a classroom with an extremely violent child, who has had multiple dealings with the police, and we were none the wiser about his behaviour..." Geri Cameron, principal of Loughshore Education Centre, told BBC News NI the Education Authority (EA) was involved in the movement of all pupils, and that the EA will find a new school for a pupil who has been expelled by a previous one. However, Ms Cameron, who is president of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said that she knew of many principals who would say that insufficient information accompanies these applications. Ms Cameron said:

The increase in assaults on teachers is well documented at present and I would contend that this is symptomatic of insufficient support structures for pupils with challenges along with poor information sharing among professionals both in education and other departments such as health and social services,

She added:

Working with pupils who have complex needs, in terms of their learning, behavioural and emotional needs, requires a labour intensive, long term and highly skilled approach. Until EA and the Department of Education (DE) recognise that investing in this work will benefit everyone in both the school and wider society then we will continue to have unhappy, underachieving pupils, disenfranchised teachers and stressed principals.

A spokesperson for the Education Authority said:

As a data controller, a school is responsible for record keeping and information sharing in relation to personal information in accordance with data protection principles. ...It also has obligations under the Education (Pupil Records) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2001. ...This legislation places requirements on schools in relation to the keeping, disclosure and transfer of pupil records as referred to in DE Guidance Circular No 2001/17 Education (Pupil Records).

When asked for a comment on its guidelines, the DE said: "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." It said a formal record of a pupil's "academic achievements and progress as well as their other skills and abilities" should be sent to a new school within 15 school days of the pupil transferring. It did not mention anything about behavioural records.

Pupil and teacher safety: Setting up for failure?

Ms Cameron said that new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other mechanisms can be used to prevent the safe sharing of data.  She said this can mean "very negative information about a pupil" is often not relayed until after a pupil has been accepted into a school.

No one is saying that pupils with challenges do not deserve equal opportunities to access education, quite the opposite in fact, pupils with challenges deserve the very best of tailored, specialist support so that they can make progress, ...However a lack of meaningful, comprehensive information accompanying the pupil in to their new school can set them up for failure. …The price of this failure is often an incredibly distressing experience for both the pupil and the staff.

NASUWT union spokesman, Justin McCamphill, said it would be "totally unacceptable for a school or employing authority to endanger staff or pupils when it is foreseen than an incident could happen". McCamphill added:

If information about a history of violent and/or disruptive behaviour is not passed on from the previous school, then it will be impossible for the receiving school to put in the measures necessary to address the needs of the young person which led to the violent behaviour in the first place.

  Sources and credits: BBC NewsData Protection Authority imposes fine on school