How can schools ensure they are GDPR compliant?

The new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is replacing the current Data Protection Act (DPA) and is set to strengthen and unify all data held within an organisation. For schools, GDPR brings a new responsibility to inform parents and stakeholders about how they are using pupils’ data and who it is being used by.

What does GDPR mean for schools?

A great deal of the processing of personal data undertaken by schools will fall under a specific legal basis, ‘in the public interest’. As it is in the public interest to operate schools successfully, it will mean that specific consent will not be needed in the majority of cases in schools.

GDPR will ensure data is protected and will give individuals more control over their data, however this means schools will have greater accountability for the data:

  • Under GDPR, consent must be explicitly given to anything that isn’t within the normal business of the school, especially if it involves a third party managing the data. Parents (or the pupil themselves depending on their age) must express consent for their child’s data to be used outside of the normal business of the school.
  • Schools must appoint a Data Protection Officer and be able to prove that they are GDPR compliant.
  • Schools must ensure that their third party suppliers who may process any of their data is GDPR compliant and must have legally binding contracts with any company that processes any personal data. These contracts must cover what data is being processed, who it is being processed by, who has access to it and how it is protected.
  • It will be compulsory that all data breaches which are likely to have a detrimental effect on the data subject are reported to the ICO within 72 hours.

Should schools be worried about GDPR?

Schools are in a much better position to comply with the GDPR changes than many other private organisations.

While the new GDPR regulations will mean more accountability, tougher penalties and a greater need for evidence, many schools already have a robust data protection policy in place and already respect individuals’ rights and freedom.

If this is the case, schools can see the introduction of the GDPR regulation as a way of further enhancing the way they deal with personal data. Schools have always had an obligation to give their pupils and their parents access to their data, however, under the new GDPR regulation, individuals have the right to ask for their data to be forgotten.

What can schools be doing now to become GDPR compliant?

Before the GDPR regulation will be enforced on 25th May 2018, there are some steps that schools can take to ensure that they are ready for compliance.

  • Ensure senior management team fully understand GDPR and its potential impact.
  • Schools should document and review all of the personal data they hold; including data for pupils, staff, parents, suppliers and governors which should be organised and stored in an audit.
  • Consider the personal data processed and ensure everyone understands how it is collected, where it came from, what it is used for and what risks are posed by its use.
  • Schools should make sure that all staff are trained according to their roles and responsibilities. This should include general GDPR awareness training for all staff as well as more detailed training for staff with more responsibility (e.g. Head Teacher, Deputy Head Teacher, Data Protection Officer).
  • Schools already have systems in place that verify individuals’ ages and gather parental consent for data processing where required.
  • An important area for schools is to identify ALL software being used within the school. Recent developments in apps for education have led to many teachers downloading apps and using these in their classrooms without the school knowing about this. Schools need to know what is being used, for what purpose and what personal data is involved so that they can ensure these apps are compliant with GDPR. Failure to do so could lead to breaches of GDPR, fines, enforcement action by the ICO and adverse publicity for the school concerned.
  • As schools are classified as a public authority for the purposes of data protection and GDPR, they must assign a Data Protection Officer who is solely responsible for any data protection and compliance with the GDPR regulation. It is important to consider where this role will sit in line with the school’s structure and governance arrangements.

Ensuring schools are GDPR compliant

GDPR is a data protection game-changer. Ensuring schools are GDPR compliant could involve significant changes to schools’ processes, bringing about a whole host of challenges that will impact schools’ resources and finances.

How GDPR will affect schools at the minute is still open for debate, but what is clear is that steps will need to be taken by schools to ensure that best practices are put in place to protect students and staff.


By Steve Baines, Data Protection Officer at Groupcall

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