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Schools 'can't use data protection to stop release of exam results to press'

Schools have been told that they can’t use the Data Protection Act to stop newspapers from publishing exam results.

New Information Commissioners’ Office guidance on publishing examination results hopes to ensure that schools, universities, colleges and students were aware of their rights – and obligations – under the Act.

It outlines schools’ responsibilities under the Act when disclosing students’ exam results, including to local newspapers, for publication.

It reiterated that students and, where appropriate, their parents needed to be told how the information about results would be used and who would be allowed to see it.

Deputy Commissioner David Smith said: “Publishing examination results is a common and accepted practice and many students enjoy seeing their name in print; it is a myth that the Data Protection Act stops this from happening.

“However, schools do have to act fairly when publishing results. Although schools do not have to gain the consent of pupils and parents before publishing exam results, any objections made must be taken seriously.”

Packet Newspapers in Cornwall was one newspaper gagged by the local authority after the county council decided not to supply school exam results in 2003, citing data protection issues.

A letter from Cornwall County Council to local newspapers at the time said: “We realise it may be disappointing to your readers that schools are not able to supply you with exam results lists this year, but seek your understanding that we have to be cautious with regard to this legislation.”

Last year, the Kentish Gazette in Canterbury used the Freedom of Information Act to find out the 11-plus exam pass rates for schools in its circulation area.

Media Lawyer reports that the Information Commissioners’ Office wanted to remind students that the Act also gave them rights to access their own exam information, such as examiners’ comments.

Universities, schools and colleges should deal with such access requests promptly and respond within 40 days.

But students could not use the right to obtain exam marks before they were published officially.

The good practice notes can be seen here.