The Department of Education has backtracked on plans to retain data on primary school children until they hit the age of 30, proposing the information be kept instead until their 19th birthday.
A new draft circular, issued for consultation to education partners, sets out a number of amendments to the original roll-out plan for the Primary Online Database (POD), principally a reduction in the length of time the data will be held.
“Schools should note that the POD retention policy has been revised and identifiable information will now be retained until the pupil’s 19th birthday,” it reads.
“Schools are advised that they will no longer have access to identifiable records on POD from this point on and should be mindful of this when formulating their own record keeping and retention policies.
“In relation to the keeping of paper copies of parental consent forms for personal sensitive data, the Department will require that these are retained for inspection in the school for the duration of each pupils’ enrolment, and should be securely disposed of thereafter.”
There had been criticism from some parents and other stakeholders over the scope of POD, which will record the PPS number, name, address, ethnicity and cultural background, religion, and special educational needs of all primary school children.
However, the department says the creation of POD will allow it to better track educational outcomes and strengthen statistical research. A similar data base is in operation at secondary level, and the primary teacher union the INTO among others supports the initiative.
The department said there would be no changes to the variables required under the revised circular, and schools would not be required to resubmit any data.
At present approximately 2,400 of the state’s 3,300 primary schools have returned data for the POD.
Once the consultation is complete, the new circular will be issued in early April. Schools are also being given extra time - and a new deadline of April 30th - to complete the inputting of forms.
A spokesman for Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said she had indicated that she would take seriously concerns raised, in particular about the length of time data would be retained.
“The revised draft addresses this issue, while still maintaining the integrity of this important development.”
The spokesman added: “These are draft proposals and these won’t be finalised until partners have had their input.
“There is widespread support for the establishment of the Primary Online Database and work at a school level on populating the database is continuing.”
The database had also drawn controversy over the manner in which information on ethnicity was being collated - prompting the issuing of a revised questionnaire for affected parents.
A revised version of the POD fair processing notice, which outlines the legal basis for POD and the POD retention policy will be posted to education.ie.
This notice outlines the bodies with whom the department proposes to share data, and the conditions under which data will be shared.
The department stresses “the term ‘sharing of data’ does not mean that these bodies will have direct access to POD.”
The circular also deals with the question of “conscientious objectors”, saying that entry of pupil data on POD will be mandatory for all new enrolments from 2015/16.
If a pupil’s data is not entered in POD that pupil will not be counted for payment and teacher allocation purposes.
In relation to pupils already enrolled in primary schools, the department said it “understands that a limited number of parents/guardians have expressed concerns about data that they have already provided to the school for schools’ use being transferred onwards to POD”.
The revised fair processing notice should “provide clarity and reassurance”. However, it said, “in a very small minority of cases” where this was unsuccessful schools should seek the parents’ objections in writing in order for their wishes to be carried out.
“Note that verbal objections will not be sufficient in this regard, as schools will be required by the department to maintain written records of objections, and parents who do not put their objections in writing should be informed by the school that their record will be otherwise transferred within a specified time period,” the circular adds.