Primary Online Database: POD now (mostly) not compulsory (for now)

Ever since the introduction of the Primary Online Database of schoolchildren by the Department of Education, the Department and its Minister have been eager to point out that any parent who refused to allow a child’s data to be transferred would see that child’s education defunded.

Well, for all children other than this week’s crop of new Junior Infants, that threat has now collapsed. This is despite the Minister and her department having claimed that the drastic threat of defunding was because it simply wasn’t possible to give grants without a child’s full data being transferred.

“there is no mechanism for separate payment and allocation to schools for pupils that are not on POD, and from a practical point of view it is difficult to see how such a system could work in practice.”
Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan

Oddly, as the prospect of defunding the education of 30% of the nation’s children in the run up to an election loomed large, the Department discovered it could, after all, pay for a child’s education without all its POD data.

The 2nd attempt to make the POD legal, Department of Education Circular No. 25/2015 dropped the defunding threat for all children other than this year’s Junior Infants.

Paragraph 4.2(a-b) of the Circular:

a. Parents/guardians who continue to object to the onward provision of data to POD need to put their objections in writing to the school in order for their wishes to be carried out. Note that verbal objections will not be sufficient in this regard, as schools will be required by the Department to maintain written records of objections, and parents who do not put their objections in writing should be informed by the school that their record will be otherwise transferred to POD within a four week timeframe. Parents/guardians who object should be given every opportunity to provide their objections in writing to the school.

b. Schools that are in receipt of a letter from a parent outlining their objections to the onward provision of data to POD can create a partial record for that pupil on POD, using the guidelines available on request from the POD Helpdesk. This will ensure that a record is created for the pupil which will be counted for grant payments and teacher allocation purposes.

So, once you’ve written and put “your objections” in writing to the school, there should be only whatever the bare minimum of data the “POD Helpdesk” is seeking transferred.

For your convenience, here’s a sample letter you could use. Insert your own words as appropriate.

***
Dear Principal,

I write further to the proposed transfer of data regarding my child (insert your child’s name here) to the Department of Education as part of the Primary Online Database. I am not satisfied that the Department has acted legally regarding this scheme in the past, and the Data Protection Commissioner’s office has confirmed the lack of legal basis for the transfer of data during the course of the rollout of this scheme.

As I both object to the creation of the POD and have no confidence in the Department’s capacity to process this data in accordance with data protection law, please note that, per Paragraph 4.2 of Department of Education Circular No. 25/2015, I wish no transfer of data relating to my child to be made to the POD database.

Thank you for your assistance.

Yours faithfully
(Your name)

***
And if, like me, you’re the parent of a new Junior Infant who can’t avail of this opt-out system, well, I’ll link to a post I’ll write about that from here shortly about what you can do. Suffice to say, if defunding was threatened because POD data was the only way to fund, what is the justification for Junior Infants being defunded, now that there is an alternative?

Joan Burton signs the third law trying to make the POD scheme legal

Joan Burton, Ministerial Seal

The misbegotten Primary Online Database project is on its third piece of legislation designed to try to make it legal.

On the 21st July, The Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton signed a Ministerial Order seeking to try to provide a legislative basis for the transfer of children’s data from schools to the Department of Education.

You can take a look at SI 317 of 2015 here.

I’ll be writing more about this in a while. However, as Digital Rights Ireland’s Director TJ McIntyre pointed out on twitter, a Statutory Instrument can only be signed by a Minister in pursuit of the purpose allowed for in its originating legislation. (Otherwise, Ministers would be able to just pass laws without reference to the Oireachtas).

In this case, SI 317/2015 is a creature of Section 266 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.

Statutory Instuments under Section 266 can only permit the transfer of data “where that Minister requires the information for the purpose of enabling him or her to provide education”.

This Statutory Instument doesn’t even claim to meet this “requirement” test. Instead, it weakly says that the Minister for Education should have the right to demand data such as a child’s mother’s maiden name, whether they’re boarding at a school, details of their special needs etc.

At the end of the Statutory Instrument, the justification for this huge data grab doesn’t even try to relate the SI to a requirement in order to provide education (the only legal basis for an SI signed under Section 266).

Instead it says
“The purpose of these Regulations is to extend the types of information that can be shared in order to further assist the Minister for Education and Skills to adequately monitor the progress of students through the education system.”

We’re rather a long way from “necessity”.

Department of Education refuses FOI regarding database of children because it would reveal their position

 

1439746511_full.jpeg

Rather missing the point of an FOI Act, the Department of Education has refused to release documents relating to the Primary Online Database- which the Data Protection Commissioner’s Office has confirmed is operating without proper legal basis.

Tellingly, they argue that to release the documents would reveal the Department’s true position on POD- which, if you think about it, tells us more about their acceptance of citizens’ rights to know about their government’s decisions than any amount of FOI Manuals.

text below

****

Dear Mr McGarr

I refer to the appeal which you made under the Freedom of Information Acts 2014 and the Department’s acknowledgement letter dated 27th July 2015.

I, XXXX Statistician, am a more senior member of the staff of this body than the person making the first decision and I have decided on 14th August 2015 to affirm the original decision on your request. This decision on review is an entirely new and separate decision on your request, and is explained as such below.

Your original request, sought access to the records listed below, in arriving at this decision I have had regard to the original request the records which were located as part of that request and the appeal letter which you submitted in this regard.

I enclose for your attention a schedule of these records, this schedule summarizes to you my findings.

I have kept the numbering scheme as provided to you in the original schedule of records.

Record No. 1: Emails and attachments withheld.

Having reviewed these documents I deem records have been refused under Section 30 of the FOI Act 2014, Functions and Negotiations of FOI Bodies

30. (1) A head may refuse to grant an FOI request if access to the record concerned could, in the opinion of the head, reasonably be expected to—

(c) disclose positions taken, or to be taken, or plans, procedures, criteria or instructions used or followed, or to be used or followed, for the purpose of any negotiations carried on or being, or to be, carried on by or on behalf of the Government or an FOI body.

As release of the documents in question would disclose positions taken by the Department during negotiations in relation to POD, I consider that the public interest is best served by refusing to grant this part of the request. Also note that in relation to your point

“In addition, it was never the case that the records from 2013, involving a Circular promulgated in January 2014 were part of any deliberative process for a circular which was not even contemplated until parental complaints were made about the POD project in 2015.”

that the documents in question relate to the period February to April 2015.

Record No. 2: Notes of Meeting.

 

Having reviewed this document I deem the record has been refused under Section 30 of the FOI Act 2014, Functions and Negotiations of FOI Bodies

30. (1) A head may refuse to grant an FOI request if access to the record concerned could, in the opinion of the head, reasonably be expected to—

(c) disclose positions taken, or to be taken, or plans, procedures, criteria or instructions used or followed, or to be used or followed, for the purpose of any negotiations carried on or being, or to be, carried on by or on behalf of the Government or an FOI body.

As release of the document in question would disclose positions taken by the Department during negotiations in relation to POD, I consider that the public interest is best served by refusing to grant this part of the request. Also note that in relation to your point

“In addition, it was never the case that the records from 2013, involving a Circular promulgated in January 2014 were part of any deliberative process for a circular which was not even contemplated until parental complaints were made about the POD project in 2015.”

that this document relates to February 2015.

Record Number 3: Room document

Having reviewed this document I deem the record has been refused under Section 30 of the FOI Act 2014, Functions and Negotiations of FOI Bodies

30. (1) A head may refuse to grant an FOI request if access to the record concerned could, in the opinion of the head, reasonably be expected to—
(c) disclose positions taken, or to be taken, or plans, procedures, criteria or instructions used or followed, or to be used or followed, for the purpose of any negotiations carried on or being, or to be, carried on by or on behalf of the Government or an FOI body.

As release of the document in question would disclose positions taken by the Department during negotiations in relation to POD, I consider that the public interest is best served by refusing to grant this part of the request.

Record Number 4: Letter from DPC to DES

Having reviewed this document I deem the record has been refused under Section 31 of the FOI Act 2014, Functions and Negotiations of FOI Bodies

31. (1) A head shall refuse to grant an FOI request if the record concerned—

(a) would be exempt from production in proceedings in a court on the ground of legal professional privilege

As the release of this record would disclose the substance of communications from external legal advisers to the office of the Data Protection Commissioner, of which the Department of Education and Skills was informed of in-confidence, access to this record must be denied.

I enclose for your attention a schedule of these records, this schedule summarizes to you my findings.

Having regard to the aforementioned I have decided to affirm the decision made by the original decision maker in relation to your request and I have enclosed again for your attention a copy of the relevant sections of the Act which this decision relies on.

You may appeal this decision by writing to the Information Commissioner at 18 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2. There is a fee of €50 for such appeals, other than appeals against a decision to impose a fee. If you wish to appeal, you must usually do so not later than 6 months from the date of this notification. Should you write to the Information Commissioner making an appeal, please refer to this letter.

If an appeal is made by you and accepted, the Information Commissioner will fully investigate and consider the matter and issue a fresh decision.

Yours sincerely,
etc

Dept of Education refuses FOI on POD as ‘not in the public interest’

Screw parents wishes we wanna

2nd March 2015 Mr Simon McGarr Re: FOI request 2015/45 I refer to the request which you made under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 for records held by this body: ‘I wish to make a request under the Freedom of Information Acts (as amended) for copies of any and all documents including but not limited to observations, letters, emails and/or submissions whether held in paper, electronic or ..

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Tell the Minister for Education: NO to POD

mcgarr-POD2

Please join [countentries formid=1] other parents and families in writing to the Minister for Education to protect every school-aged child's right to privacy and future identity security. Tell Minister O’Sullivan that the Department of Education's plans for the new Primary Online Database (POD) should be scrapped.

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