Managing SARs and FOIs regarding exam results

Advice for teachers and schools on students’ access to information about their exam results

It’s likely schools and colleges have seen or will see an increase in SAR and FOI requests asking for justification of marks and/or ranking when exam results are published this year. We’ve put together some simple advice you can follow to ensure you respond in accordance with the GDPR and DPA2018.

Firstly, let’s clarify who can request information

Parents may make a request for a child’s education record under the age of 18 without the child’s permission. The right to make a SAR is the child’s right and it is deemed that children 13 or older must give permission. When a child older than 13 cannot do this a parent may make that request.

You don’t need to do anything different

It is important to respond to exam results requests as you would any other FOI, SAR or Student Educational Record request. If you use a system to record and track these it is advisable to use that system and ensure you have a record of your response.

Make sure you acknowledge the request

Use our simple acknowledgement template to ensure you are meeting the requirements.

What if you receive multiple requests from the same person?

Where a single student/parent/guardian submits multiple requests, each one must be treated, and responded to, as a single request – they cannot be regarded as the same request or merged in any way.

However, if the resulting workload appears to be excessive, it is perfectly acceptable for you to ask the requester to narrow down their request, for example, they may ask for a full Subject Access Request when all they really want to know is what their expected grades were.

Full guidance on responding to FOIs or SARs regarding exam results can also be found on the ICO website.

Your obligations

If a SAR is requested, you should provide the following:

  • any teacher assessments and/or rank order
  • the evidence used to make these decisions such as previous results from mock exams/assignments/assessments, records of performance or an exchange of emails discussing a student’s provisional grade or teacher assessment

You do not need to provide

  • copies of their answers from mock exams or assignments used to assess their performance

In accordance with the Education Act, parents can have access to their child’s education record without permission from the child if they are under the age of 18.

Be proactive

The ICO suggests that after results are issued you proactively provide students with their centre assessment grade and/or rank order information and consider what is needed to help students understand the context in which their final calculated result has been decided.

You may want to provide links to the ICO advice to students on accessing information about their exam results and their advice to help young people understand their rights in general.

Issues with rank order

Whilst OFQUAL is no longer using the rank order it is a piece of personal data which exists and may need to be disclosed. The disclosure of rank order could reveal the rank order of other students, therefore it is advisable to consider if the rank order reveals something about another individual.

If so, then you need to think about whether it would be reasonable to disclose it or withhold it. If you choose to withhold it, you must tell the requester the reason why.

Disclosing to a student that they ranked first or last is unlikely to disclose individual level information about the rest of the cohort, only that everyone else is below or above them.

However, within small cohorts the rank order could reveal information about other students, again you’ll have to decide whether it’s reasonable to disclose this information rather than withhold it. Any requests received where a small cohort is concerned need to be looked at very carefully on a case by case basis.

Managing SARs and FOIs around exam results