Primary staff 'putting their pupils at risk'

Personal details of some two million primary schoolchildren in England is being put at risk by staff taking home unprotected data, it is being claimed.

A survey of almost 1,000 primary schools, published yesterday, found that almost half, 49 per cent, were backing up pupil data onto discs, memory sticks or tapes which were taken off the school premises, exposing the material to loss or theft.

Information technology experts, RM School Management Solutions (RM SMS), which carried out the survey, said that only one per cent of respondents encrypted the data.

The "at-risk" material, carried by school managers commuting to and from work, was said to include names, addresses and dates of birth pupils, contact numbers for parents, details of pupils' attendance and behaviour, and academic records.

A further four per cent of schools were leaving sensitive and unprotected data at unsecured locations on the school premises.

The findings came amid renewed concerns over data security following the loss of the entire HM Revenue and Customs child benefit database.

The head of RM SMS, Paul Grubb, said that the lack of data security reflected the absence of clear guidance for school staff."Schools may be acting with the best intentions to preserve children's records and ensure information is kept up to date, but they risk breaching data protection guidelines by taking such risks with pupil data," he said.

"Unfortunately, the Data Protection Act isn't clear enough on this issue and so schools are interpreting it and making their own decisions."

"This is a potentially dangerous responsibility being placed upon primary schools in particular.

"They know they have a duty to keep pupil records safe, but the systems that currently exist in most primary schools do not offer the security that is needed, so schools are forced to develop their own solutions."

How the regions compare on data

Breakdown by region of primary schools in England where pupil data is taken home by staff.

North East – 35 per cent

n North West – 44 per cent

Yorkshire & Humber – 49 per cent

Midlands & East Anglia – 50 per cent

London – 32 per cent

South East – 48 per cent

South West – 56 per cent