Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has said she is willing to look again at the proposed retention of personal information on primary school pupils, including their PPS numbers, ethnicity and religion, for a new primary school online database.
The Department of Education asked all primary schools to begin populating the new database from the start of the current school year. Principals of schools for pupils with special needs were asked to begin collecting the information from this month.
Schools have been asked to collect various details, including sensitive information such as ethnicity and medical conditions. In the case of any medical or health details, only the school and not the department will have access to the information.
The department has asked principals, however, to collect PPS numbers for the purposes of using them as a 'unique identifier' for each students. Such a purpose is not listed on the department's entry on the register kept by the Department of Social Protection of bodies authorised to process PPS numbers.
The department also proposes to use the primary online database for planning purposes, statistical analysis and to ensure children progress through the education system.
Among the information the department proposes to keep up to each child’s 30th birthday are name, address, PPS number, ethnic and cultural background and religion.
Post-primary schools have been collecting similar information for a database for some time.
Ms O’Sullivan said on Thursday the purpose of the Primary Online Database was to ensure that children don’t drop out after primary school.
But she conceded there had been “concern” about the retention of information for 30 years and said she was willing to look at this.
Speaking on the Lunchtime programme on Newstalk radio, Ms O’Sullivan said the department had consulted with its partners on the issue because “we know there is a sensitivity around this area”. She was aware concerns had been raised about it this week.
The initiative was supported by parents’ groups, by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation and by school management, she said.
"We already do it at second level and at third level and the purpose of this really is to ensure that for example that children don't drop out after primary school and maybe never progress to post-primary school. So we need to ensure that we know what is happening with the children of Ireland and that we don't have people dropping out."
The Minister said the data was "only available in a very controlled way" and that the Department had consulted with the Data Protection Commissioner.
“But on the issue of the 30 years that is something that I am willing to look at because I know it was raised...and there was concern about it.
“The reason for keeping the data for 30 years is, I presume, is because we want to ensure that we have the necessary information in terms of planning etc.
“But that is an area that I would be happy to examine. I am very satistifed as Minister that it is a positive that we do have this data so that we can make sure that all children benefit from the education system all the way through.”