School data management

Ethical and effective data protection in schools

Schools need to view data management and protection as key tasks according to Al Kingsley, Group CEO of NetSupport and Chair of Hampton Academies Trust.

Creating the right environment

Now that emerging technologies like ChatGPT have become mainstream, data privacy and security is under the microscope of publics and governments across the globe. For providers of education technology, or EdTech, this growing awareness of the potential risks associated with data collection is an opportunity to demonstrate transparency, accountability and commitment to maintaining excellent data privacy standards.

By the same token, schools using EdTech will also need to become ‘savvy shoppers’ by seeking a greater understanding of what they need from their EdTech solutions, what questions to ask vendors and what evidence to request. By creating an environment of transparency and arming educators with the information they need, schools will be empowered to make more informed purchasing decisions, manage student data ethically and effectively, and ultimately reap the full benefits of a technology-enhanced education.

Be informed

Policy and guidance around data handling can often be overwhelming for schools, so a thorough and in-depth understanding of how guidelines apply to the systems and operations employed throughout the school is an essential first step. There are various toolkits, such as this one recently issued by the Department of Education in the UK, which can help provide up-to-date information of how to comply with data protection laws and develop compliant policies and good practices to prevent data breaches.

Data protection officer

All schools must have a data protection officer whose role it is to ensure the school is meeting its GDPR and data related obligations. Although data protection officers can be teachers, having a degree of separation between the interests of the individual and their roles is important. In addition, with the continue evolution of data protection policy and with more government guidance expected as a result of the Online Safety Bill in the UK, entrusting this role of data oversight to an external individual such as governor or trustee can help give this separation and reduce the workload of already overburdened staff.

Data education

To reduce data privacy breaches and ensure best possible compliance, improved education about data policies is essential. Regular and up-to-date CPD for staff members using digital platforms or handling data can help guarantee a thorough understanding of the importance of correct data usage. In the same vein, it is important that any school’s data policy tailored to its specific platforms and requirements is routinely updated and communicated to all necessary staff.

Best practice in developing online safety

Digital citizenship skills – skills and knowledge of how to safely and respectfully engage in the online world – should be an automatic element of any information technology lessons, but schools should go further to incorporate online safety and privacy examples wherever possible across all subjects within a curriculum. The use of classroom EdTech in a range of different subjects provides the opportunities to continuously demonstrate example of best practice when it comes to digital safety and responsibility, helping to improve students’ awareness of the importance of protecting their own data.

Finding the right solutions

Ultimately, the burden of ethical and correct data management shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of schools. EdTech providers are and should be ensuring that their platforms and products prioritise privacy and security, and importantly are open about what data their solutions access and how they handle it. Making openness and support around data management a priority when considering which solution is right for your school will help lessen the work and streamline the effective and safe introduction of the platform.

EdTech products should be judged not just on the effectiveness of the product and its efforts to enable safe data handling but also on its commitment to support education around responsible digital practices.

Simple features such as pop ups which inform students of what their data is being used for at point of entry, for example, when they are creating profiles on a platform, can help embed a consideration of why they are being asked for what information and whether its necessary.

Additionally, alerts that update users that their data have been deleted and is no longer being stored, can help build awareness of less secure platforms that may continue to hold data longer than is appropriate or warranted. Simple informative notices such as these can help young people begin to recognise the difference between platforms or websites that are handling data correctly and those that are less secure. It is imperative that schools are selecting platforms that can support teachers in educating students to protect themselves.

Resources

Data policy and management can often be an intimidating and confusing topic, but this should not detract from the critical role they play in protecting an individual’s personal information and privacy. There is a multitude of helpful resources available to educators that can act as informative guides and ensure that schools are informed on their journeys to data security. Careful consideration of EdTech suppliers can allow schools to introduce platforms that will support and prioritise data protection as opposed to increasing confusion concerning compliance. Above all, education regarding the risks of data usage is paramount and schools should strive to support both staff and students alike in understanding the risks and best practices concerning the handling of personal information.

As technology and its usage in all aspects of life continues to evolve, so must the awareness of the risks of poor data management. Efforts of schools and EdTech companies alike must simultaneously increase to ensure we are taking all necessary steps for effective, and ethical data management, as part of a continuous journey to protect pupils’ privacy.

 

Al Kingsley, Group CEO of NetSupport and Chair of Hampton Academies Trust

 

 

 

 

FEATURE IMAGE: by Jan Alexander from Pixabay

Support images:   by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash, Mohamed Hassan and Pete Linforth from Pixabay