Schools are increasingly talking about General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – the beefing up of data protection, which will be written into law in May 2018.

The obvious question is: “where do I start?”  Typically, the first place most people begin is by reading the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) overview of the GDPR and GDPR: 12 steps to take now, and are thinking, “what does this mean for us?”

Whether the new regulation represent revolution or evolution for your organisation depends on current practice, but generally speaking I’d recommend 3 things:

1. Focus on why this is important

Yes, it’s legislation, and there are potential fines for serious breaches, but for most schools the focus should be on the third word in the title: ‘Protection’. It’s about keeping the large volumes of sensitive data about young and sometimes vulnerable children safe.  A pretty essential thing to do well, and something that can help get your staff engaged in a more effective way than quoting mandatory work just to comply.

2. Work out what’s new about the regulations

In particular, there is a shift in emphasis which means that data controllers, like schools, not only need robust processes and controls, but need to be more pro-active in demonstrating them.  There are also more things considered as se

nsitive data, and the bar is raised on where citizens should have transparency and choice about where their data goes.

3. Understand your school’s data ecosystem

Any data controller should be on top of protecting sensitive data know where it is stored, where it goes, and what is done with it.

Initial steps to take now

1. Think where personal data is captured during school life

This is likely to include admissions, parental forms, assessment, school trips etc.

2. Think about where that data is used

Generally it’s for contacting people, for tracking education, or for maintaining regular school facilities and activities like libraries and canteens.  Several, but not all of your systems, may interconnect with the core management information system (MIS).

3. Think who you share that data with

For schools this commonly includes local authorities, multi-academy trusts, the DfE and beyond.

Building a picture of your new data landscape

You might already have that picture.  You might not, and if not, just have a go…you won’t get it right first time, but show it to a few colleagues across the school, iterate it a few times with them and you’ll be that bit closer to de-mystifying GDPR. It should look something like this:

Data landscape

That overview sets us up for the next task – showing where the sensitive data is in that ecosystem, and the associated security.

Looking ahead, schools will want to think about how they evolve privacy notices and messages to parents. Investing some time now in doing the work outlined above will be a good step to support communicating to parents and pupils about what data you process and why.

The role of Data Protection Officers under GDPR

There’s also plenty to think about in terms of an appropriate Data Protection Officer role – the focus of which shifts slightly under the proposed GDPR towards managing subject access requests, ensuring staff are aware and up to date with their responsibilities and the legal principles under which data is processed.

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