Question over pupil database

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WORK on the centralised pupil database should be halted as there is a risk the Education department could be found to be holding information to which it is not legally entitled.

That’s the damning conclusion of a scrutiny committee inquiry into a pupil database, trialled in two schools in December 2011 with the aim of assessing pupil achievements and needs and help ensure scarce resources are used where they are needed most.

The set-up cost of the system was £267,000 and the annual running cost is estimated at £44,000.

Chief executive Stuart Dobson had told the social affairs policy review committee he was ‘absolutely certain’ that the savings made from having the information would outweigh the annual cost.

But civil liberties campaigners expressed concern about the holding of sensitive personal information on a central database.

And giving evidence committee, data protection supervisor Iain McDonald suggested current legislation did not provide for the head teacher to provide to the Department of Education and Children all the personal data in the attendance and admission registers – and therefore such disclosures may contravene the Data Protection Act.

The committee report, which will be presented to this month’s Tynwald sitting, states: ‘It appears therefore that there is a risk that the DEC could be found to be holding information to which it is not legally entitled.’

But the supervisor said that although the processing may not be currently lawful it seems that DEC could produce a new set of regulations that, subject to Tynwald approval, would make the processing lawful.

Given the ‘alarming findings’ of the data protection supervisor, the committee recommended that work on the centralised pupil database should be halted until the necessary legislative framework is in place.

In a further recommendation, the committee called for the DEC to consult with Tynwald members, parents and teachers before putting any updated legislative framework for the handling of pupil data before Tynwald for approval.

The committee also said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ by the Attorney General chamber’s failing to provide a copy of its legal advice to the Department of Education despite eight months of chasing.

It said disclosure of the advice should have been a decision for the DEC, not the Attorney General’s Chambers but it had decided nevertheless to go ahead and report to Tynwald at this stage because of the ‘importance and urgency’ of the subject matter of its report.

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