Responding to requests for information for schools
As public bodies, schools can and often are subject to requests for information they hold through either a Freedom of Information Request (FOIR) or a Subject Access Request (SAR). These can be in relation to information about the way the school is run or accessing individual pupils' records.
In short, FOIRs are for any recorded information held by a public body whereas SARs are for information which involves the applicant's own personal data, or often in the case of schools, the applicant's child.
Freedom of Information Requests
FOIRs are made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and can be made for any recorded information that a public body holds. Requests must be made in writing, addressed directly to the public body, giving your real name and an address for the response.
The information must be recorded, therefore if any request involves the creation of new information or opinions then it need not be answered. Furthermore, any requests dealing with information which is too sensitive may be refused and care should be taken not to include any personal information in the response. Requests can also be refused if the response would involve costs which are too high or it would take too much staff time to deal with. However, costs such as photocopying, printing and postage can be recovered.
Under the FOIA, you have 20 working days to respond to any requests. If you need more time, you must inform the person who sent the request as soon as possible. You do not need to reply to requests where the information is accessible by other means, such as on the institution's website, although it is best practice to respond to any request to let them know this.
Subject Access Request
SARs are made under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). You can request these of any organisation processing your personal data. You can ask for copies of information contained in both paper and computer records.
Organisations can charge up to £10 to respond to most requests. However, charges for education records are based on a sliding scale from £1 to £50 depending on the number of pages provided.
There are certain exemptions based on the nature of the information or the effect it is likely to have if disclosed. These include confidential references, publicly available information and information about crime and taxation.
In relation to information about pupils held by schools, parents can only access information about their child if the child is unable to act on their own behalf or has given their consent.
Under the DPA, you have 40 days to respond to any requests, or 15 school days for education records.