Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan says her department will continually review policy on keeping data on primary pupils, which it intends to hold until they reach the age of 30.
The issue has been the subject of criticism in recent weeks, with Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon’s office still in talks with the department.
It is planned to retain the information that is currently being gathered for a primary online database (POD) through schools until children turn 30, something the minister again acknowledged was causing anxiety.
She told the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) annual conference the department is very conscious and respectful of data protection issues and citizens’ right to privacy.
“Some people may be concerned that their data is being kept for an excessively long period of time. Others are uncomfortable with the idea of an official record of their school enrolment not being available to them if they require access to it at a future date,” she said.
“My department will review, on an ongoing basis, our retention policy, taking account of these concerns.”
She told principals that PPS numbers were intended to be a unique identifier for people to assist and improve the efficiency with which public services are provided, such as student grants and early childhood care and education.
She added that a similar database has been in operation at second-level for over 20 years, and having one at primary level would provide information on school completion and retention rates, transfer rates to second-level and third-level, and subject choices. It would also provide more general information on what aspects of the system work as well as up-to-date figures for future planning and resource allocation.
However, Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue says she must clarify why there is a need to retain sensitive details of pupils for so long.
“I call on the minister to put on hold the implementation of this database until the very serious security concerns surrounding its operation are addressed. It is unacceptable that she has threatened to cut funding to schools should some parents fail to provide relevant PPS details,” he said.
IPPN president Brendan McCabe told the Irish Examiner that schools were disappointed the POD was not capturing more information that would reduce interruptions to the running of schools by information requests from outside agencies.
“It will help in some ways but not in all areas yet. Hopefully in time it will capture everything that other stakeholders would need and do away with the need for regular form-filling by schools,” he said.
“We know people have had concerns about who has access to the information but it would only be shared with those agencies who had correct and right access to it in the past anyway,” he said.
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