UK: GDPR For Schools - Steps To Prepare

Last Updated: 12 January 2018
Article by Christine Jackson

What Questions Should Schools Consider And What Steps Should Schools Take In Order To Prepare For The GDPR? 

Raise awareness

  • Make sure the key people within the school are aware of the new data protection rules under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and of what effect the GDPR will have on the way the school is run.
  • Be aware that management may be held personally liable (and punished accordingly) if the school breaches personal data protection legislation with their consent or connivance, or due to their neglect.
  • Once everyone is aware of the effects the GDPR will have, schools will need to consider what resources (in terms of both finance and staff) will need to be allocated towards implementing the GDPR.
  • Arrange meetings between the people that will need to drive through the changes within the school.

Appoint a Data Protection Officer, if required

  • The GDPR requires organisations to appoint a mandatory Data Protection Officer (DPO) in certain circumstances, including where:
    • the organisation is a public authority or body – which will include all Local Authority maintained schools; or
    • the core activities consist of regular or systematic monitoring of individuals on a large scale – this could potentially include use of CCTV; or
    • the core activities consist of processing special categories of data – which includes information about race, ethnic origin, religion and health – or personal data relating to criminal convictions and offences, on a large scale.
    • Where a DPO is required, schools should:
      • scope out the DPO role,
      • decide where the DPO should sit within the school's management and governance structure, and
      • ensure that the DPO is involved, properly and in a timely manner, in all issues which relate to the protection of personal data.

Consider what data the school holds and what it does with that data

  • Conduct a review of what personal data the school currently holds. This is likely to require a full data protection audit. The audit could be undertaken in respect of the whole school or particular departments and would identify where the areas of non-compliance are within the school.
  • Consider and record for what purposes the school processes personal data, where it comes from and who it is shared with.
  • Review the legal basis on which the school is entitled to process the personal data the school holds. For example, has the school obtained parental/staff consent, or is the processing necessary for the school to comply with its legal obligations? Different justifications will exist for different types of personal data and processing activity.
  • Note that children under 13 years cannot 'consent' to the processing of their personal data'; consent can only be given by the holder of personal responsibility over the child.

Review existing procedures

  • Review how the school currently seeks, obtains and records personal data and individuals' consent to the processing of their data, e.g. acceptance forms, parental consent forms etc.
  • How is the school's approach to data protection communicated to staff, parents and students?
  • At what stages do individuals have the opportunity to read and/or agree to privacy notices and privacy policies? On the school's website, hard copy, email?
  • Consider whether the school's privacy notices and privacy policies are concise and easy to understand. Do they contain all the necessary information that needs to be communicated to staff, parents and children?
  • Communication to children should be clear and accessible, with the level of comprehension of the age groups involved firmly in mind.  
  • Is the school equipped to identify when a data protection breach has occurred? What is the process for investigating and remedying any such breach?
  • Consider whether the school transfers any of its data abroad – this could include the use of cloud service providers, web hosting services or simply emailing parents or agents based abroad.

Assess how the school deals with individuals exercising their rights

  • Ensure that everyone is aware of the new rights individuals have in respect of their personal data under the GDPR and when they can exercise them.
  • Does the school have adequate systems in place to correct or erase data at an individual's request?
  • Assess the procedure for responding to a subject access request and whether this can be done within the GDPR's 30 calendar day timeframe.
  • Cease charging individuals when they make a subject access request.

Identify areas of risk

  • Identify which areas of non-compliance are of the highest priority to address.
  • Put together a plan of action to remedy those areas of non-compliance.
  • The GDPR introduces new rules on processing personal data relating to children. Ensure that everyone understands the law in relation to this sensitive topic by arranging training from an expert.
  • Following a review of how the school obtains consent from data subjects, consider whether it has clearly obtained 'freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous' consent for each use of personal data that it makes.
  • What security measures does the school currently take in respect of personal data? Consider:
    • Are hard copies locked away or left on desks? Who has access to data that is locked away in filing cabinets etc?
    • Are electronic copies of data protected by passwords? If so, how many people know the passwords or would be able to find out the password?
    • Does the school store data on memory sticks?
    • Does the school use a third party to process data on its behalf? What contractual obligations does the data processor have in respect of data protection and what remedies does the school have under the contract should the data processor breach these obligations?

Implement change

  • Remove any pre-ticked tick boxes from the school's processes for obtaining consent.
  • Consider whether the school needs to draft new internal and external policies and procedures. In any event, privacy notices and policies may need to be adapted so that they can be easily understood by children.
  • Where children's consent for data processing is required, ensure that the procedure for obtaining consent requires the school to also obtain parental consent.
  • If the school does not have consent for certain types of data processing which it still wishes to carry out, a cost-effective way of obtaining all necessary consents from the relevant individuals will need to be decided upon before continuing with such processing.
  • Consider whether the school needs to invest in new technology to help it comply with the GDPR e.g. in order to pseudonymise data.

Monitor compliance

  • Under the guidance of the school's Data Protection Officer (where relevant), schedule regular reviews and training across the business to ensure the school remains compliant.
  • Continue to refine the school's policies and procedures with any future changes in the law. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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