Tom Middlehurst, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at SSAT, outlines the importance of considering the data created during teacher assessments, and its longer-term impact on any subsequent data subject access requests
Teachers and curriculum leaders are currently working on their teacher assessments and rankings for students due to sit GCSEs, AS, A-level and vocational qualifications this summer: SSAT members can download the guide to teacher assessment and ranking. This is not an easy exercise, especially for large-entry subjects, where schools may have to distinguish between seemingly very similar students.
It goes without saying that teachers and leaders want to get the ranking as accurate and fair as possible. As such, there may be a tendency to send emails backwards and forward about particular students, offering new evidence as to why they should be further up or down the rank. However, school leaders must express a note of caution in doing this. As Dylan Wiliam reminded us in his recent SSAT webinar: anything that is written down must be submitted if and when a student requests access to their data – which is a distinct possibility this summer.
Why can students request this?
Since GDPR became law, any student can request the data the school holds on them, including internal and external assessments. Most schools have invested time and money in ensuring that their CRMs or other data systems are fit for purpose, so that emails can be tracked back to the student, and any data is stored on one place centrally. However, up to now, requests of this kind to schools have been very limited.
This year though, that data means something more. The teacher assessed grade and the rank order is the foundation on which the final calculated grade will be awarded. If a student, or their parent, is unhappy with the grade they receive in August, they may well want to know what the school actually submitted for them.
At SSAT, we hope that these cases become exceptional rather than the norm this summer. However, we have heard anecdotal evidence from our members of parents ‘gently’ reminding teachers that they can put a request in, and that they’ll be interested to see what grade was submitted to the exam board.
What can students request?
The information a school has to pass over will depend on the wording of the request. However, to simplify it, a student may put in a data subject access request (DSAR) to request:
- their teacher assessed grade
- their rank within that grade
- any documentation (letters, emails, recorded meetings, etc) that relates to that data.
Any student may put in a freedom of information request (FOI) to request:
- the process the school used to grade and rank students
- any documentation that was used to guide that process.
As schools cannot issue a blanket exemption, then, unless the law is amended rapidly, the chances are that they will have to comply with these requests.
What about confidentiality?
During this process, and until results are published in August, schools must not release the teacher assessed grade or rank order, even informally to students and parents. To do so is considered malpractice.
Even once the results have been published in August, schools should still consider this information confidential, and leaders should remind staff not to discuss details with students after this time; and avoid conversations in the sixth form like “I wanted to give you a 7, but Mr G wouldn’t let me”.
If a DSAR is made, then the data the school provides must pertain only to that student. For example, they must be given their order within the rank for that grade, but not the names of other candidates above and below them.
What should leaders be doing now?
It may be, hopefully, that this is not an issue for most schools. However, it’s good to prepare nonetheless. Some general advice for leaders includes:
- Reminding curriculum leaders and teachers that any written or recorded information that relates to this data may be requested. This includes seemingly innocuous or informal email exchanges about where a student should be placed in the rank.
- Understanding that it is perfectly acceptable to make these decisions on unrecorded online meetings, without documenting them.
- To ensure that any requests that come in in August can be responded to in the timeframe (especially during the summer holidays).
- Ensuring your data protection systems are GDPR compliant, including the tracking of any emails and written correspondence that relates to student data.
- Planning a process for any appeals.
- Considering developing a standard pack of documents that could be given as part of a request, depending on the wording.
- Tom is available to deliver one-hour online policy briefings for small groups of your school or trust’s SLT, HODs or governors. These sessions can be tailored to your specific needs and will cover the latest issues and policy updates. You will also have the opportunity to ask questions and take part in open discussions with your teams. Get in touch with our dedicated team or call 020 7802 0955 for further information.
- He is also leading an online curriculum intent and quality assurance seminar on 20 May which explores the EIF and helps review your current curriculum provision. Learn more