The department had instructed schools to compile information on students as part of the primary online database — the records of which were originally planned to be kept for 30 years. The department had warned parents that if they decided to opt out of the scheme, it “may have funding and teacher allocation implications for your school”.
Solicitor Simon McGarr, who has aired concerns over the length of time the primary online database seeks to hold onto pupils’ information, has sought documents relating to his complaint from the Data Protection Commission and the Department under the Freedom of Information Act.
A letter from an official at the department to the Data Protection Commission shows the department will now not threaten schools with a loss of funding if parents decline to comply with the primary online database.
However, the letter also states that schools will not be informed of this change until the start of the new school year in September.
“The department feels that allowing partial records to be created is a fair compromise for parents with such objections, as it protects the anonymity of the pupil while ensuring that school data is accurate for funding purposes,” the February letter said.
Mr McGarr said that, as a result of the failure to communicate this U-turn to schools across the country, parents may mistakenly believe they have little choice but to fully co-operate with the primary online database initiative.
Furthermore, he said he believes the independence of the commission has come into question because the minutes of meetings between it and the department show the Data Protection Commission is the body advising the department on the development of the database, and the authority responsible for investigating complaints against it.
Mr McGarr is to forward the documents he has received under freedom of information to the European Commission. Yesterday, he told the Irish Examiner that he hopes to have filed his complaint with the European Commission by the end of next week.
In a statement, the Data Protection Commission said that it can advise service providers as well as independently investigate complaints.
“The office has an engaged, pro-active approach to regulation, consulting with both public and private sector organisations,” said the Office of the Data Protection Commission.
“Rather than simply watching for transgressions, the team interacts with service providers at the inception of a product, service, policy or business initiative, meaning we can assess compliance with data protection legislation at this early stage and seek the best result for the user or customer.
“The office, of course, remains free to independently investigate any complaint involving a possible contravention of the Acts, whether involving a data controller or processor who has previously sought guidance or not.”
The Department of Education did not respond to queries from the Irish Examiner at time of going to press.