Primary school teachers were told by their union last October that collection of personal data belonging to pupils for a new database to be operated by the Department of Education was not work they should be doing.
The department has asked teachers from the beginning of this school year to begin collecting information such as students’ PPS numbers, ethnicity and religion for the Primary Online Database.
It says the information, some of which will be kept up to the pupils’ 30th birthdays, will be used for planning purposes and to ensure students progress through the education system to second level.
Although the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said earlier this week it welcomed the database, it has emerged the union “strongly” advised its members last October that primary schools were “not resourced for this project”.
It said such data collection was “not the work of a principal teacher or teacher”.
In an article in its In Touch newsletter in October, the union said it was a “cause for concern” that a decade after the union sought the database measure that an “under-resourced model” had been proposed.
“No provision has been made to provide schools with additional clerical support for this project,” it said.
The Department was, in effect, asking schools to undertake the data collection “free of charge”.
“Primary schools are not resourced for this project.”
The article said the department had not involved the INTO in a pilot project for the database and claimed 50 per cent of schools did not complete the pilot project.
“At the very least this raises significant questions about the manageability of the proposed database project for schools.
“The INTO strongly advises members that this data collection is not the work of a principal teacher or teacher,” the article continued.
“The union notes that schools have until March 2015 to populate the database. This gives sufficient time to the Department to budget for the necessary support.”
It is understood schools are now to be paid a small sum for each record entered in the database.
The union did not raise questions in its newsletter at that time about privacy issues related to the collection and storage of such information on students.
Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said on Thursday she was willing to look again at the proposed 30-year retention period for the personal information in the database.
School principals have been asked to collect a range of information, 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 student. 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 Data Protection Commissioner has confirmed it was consulted on the Primary Online Database project.