back to article None too chuffed with your A levels? Hey, why not bludgeon the exam boards with GDPR?

Schools across the UK may have thought results fever was over for another year – but, thanks to the nation's privacy watchdog, they might not get to relax just yet. The Information Commissioner's Office has published a how-to guide on demanding more information about exams results for students. "If you've just received your …

  1. Neil Brown

    Paragraph 25, Schedule 2, Data Protection Act 2018

    The GDPR establishes the right of access — Article 15 — but it is subject to the specific exclusion / limitation in paragraph 25, Schedule 2, Data Protection Act 2018. The ICO's guidance essentially parrots this paragraph. This limits the scope of Article 15, and extends the time to respond.

    What fun.

  2. Joe W

    Could be humbling

    Whenever I looked at exam results in detail I was quite embarrassed for the stupid mistakes - and where they still gave me partial credits was really quite generous. So by all means: look at what you did and what you did wrong. It will set you straight and you will find out exactly how stupid you really are.

    1. ThatOne Bronze badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Could be humbling

      > Could be humbling

      True, but being humble isn't fashionable anymore. Today it's all about being "special" (and everybody around you acknowledging this). Which means that any communication suggesting that you (or your child) is anything less than exceptional is considered an insult, a slur, and there are laws against that (You're a citizen, you have rights, and all that).

      In the past a teacher would show you your errors and you would feel stupid and promise to try harder. Nowadays you just feel insulted and will file a civil lawsuit. Society progresses...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Could be humbling

      > It will set you straight and you will find out exactly how stupid you really are.

      If appeals become routine the whole system will collapse - and probably should!

      https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/appeals-for-gcse-as-and-a-level-summer-2017-exam-series

      ...don't swallow the massaged headlines either look at the xslx - some boards are issuing grade changes in 30% of appeal cases.

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Could be humbling

        "don't swallow the massaged headlines either look at the xslx - some boards are issuing grade changes in 30% of appeal cases."

        So? Appeals are only made if someone thinks there's a reason to do so, so there should always be a high proportion that are successful. The report even specifically notes that more information is now available to exam centres, which has resulted in far fewer grades being appealed, but those appeals are better targetted and more likely to succeed. What matters is how many successful appeals there are as a proportion of the total number of exams. 0.004% isn't usually considered a terrible error rate.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Could be humbling

          >0.004% isn't usually considered a terrible error rate.

          That's not the error rate, it's an irrelevant statistic for the gullible. The error rate runs between 2 and 30% depending on the board and examination.

          >there should always be a high proportion that are successful.

          No, the marking scheme is objective and markers are moderated. Few, if any, appeals should be successful. Grade changes usually require multiple errors - borderline marks already got a second look.

          1. Cuddles Silver badge

            Re: Could be humbling

            "That's not the error rate, it's an irrelevant statistic for the gullible. The error rate runs between 2 and 30% depending on the board and examination."

            You were wrong when you first claimed it, now you're just straight up lying. The error rate is the proportion of errors in the entire sample, ie. all exams that were given a mark. What you are whining about is the proportion of grades that were appealed because there was reason to suspect an error occured, in which the appeal was subsequently upheld. Obviously that is much higher because the vast majority of marks are not suspected to have significant problems. In addition, it's already been pointed out that even that percentage has not ever reached 30% so you should probably stop repeating it.

            "No, the marking scheme is objective and markers are moderated. Few, if any, appeals should be successful."

            That's just plain stupid. Ideally all appeals should be successful because people would only appeal when there has actually been a problem. As it is, some appeals are unsuccessful because people aren't always correct about that. What you actually mean is that because marking is moderated, the overall error rate should be low and few appeals should be successful compared with the total number of grades given, ie. it should be in the region of 0.04% rather than 30%. Which it is.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Could be humbling

              >it's already been pointed out that even that percentage has not ever reached 30% so you should probably stop repeating it.

              The error rate is the % of papers with incorrect marking, not the number marked so badly the grade changes. The former is typically around 5 to 10% with the better boards but runs much higher with certain board/examinations.

              It's actually not unusual to have 100% error rate with some markers on a particular paper - in many ways this is preferable to the more usual random lapses as it evidences consistency at least.

  3. Ballast
    Joke

    Can't believe they publicised this...

    It's going to be testing times for these exam boards...

    1. microbug

      Re: Can't believe they publicised this...

      This is common knowledge amongst students, schools have been allowing this for years. The limiting factor is that there is a fairly hefty fee of ~£20 per exam paper you want back (and probably more for a re-mark).

      1. Uberior

        Re: Can't believe they publicised this...

        £20 fee?

        There should be no charge for a Subject Access Request.

      2. Halfmad

        Re: Can't believe they publicised this...

        Can we charge a fee?

        In most cases you cannot charge a fee to comply with a subject access request.

        - I doubt asking for exam papers would be considered manifestly unfounded or excessive in nature.In fact from my own experience of dealing with the ICO over this they'd absolutely not see it as either.

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: FOI...

      There's productivity in the public sector?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FOI...

      And useful for finding out how much your local council is spending on toilet roll/free holidays/kickbacks

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FOI...

      As someone who works in public sector and deals with FOIs on a daily basis I have no issue with 99% of them. I do dislike those which come in looking for contacts for contracts - this is purely about making a company money, not about public interest IMHO and we shouldn't have to answer them when we've got publicly accountable bidding processes in place where these companies will be invited to bid.

      What surprises me is how often people screw up their questions and word them in a way which means we can reply without really giving the data that will actually be of use. If you want specific information that we hold then you really need to be specific, be vague and you'll get a vague response and the ICO won't care.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: FOI...

        Perhaps if bodies were more transparent then any request for information could just be directed to the public announcements. Only those from indivduals would remain since they could not be made public due to data protection laws.

        To be frank business brought this legislation upon itself with their policies of collecting and retaining information they do not need, thus if you don't collect it then you don't need to search much to say "sorry we have nothing on you"

      2. Peter Galbavy

        Re: FOI...

        What AC said above... if public bodies simply published, in an accessible form, all the data/information that they would be expected to provide to FOI requests then the faux outrage at the workload and costs would go away. It's all about process and public bodies love process - just add the steps required to publish as part of every process and project and voila!

        Not publishing should in itself be published, with validated references to exemptions.

        1. Cynical Pie

          Re: FOI...

          @peter galbavy - the problem with your suggestion is very little of what we are asked to produce under FOI is 'expected'.

          The majority is either people touting for business or people with specific local issues/grudges so I am not sure how we would be expected to routinely publish this without actually knowing what people want.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: FOI...

          " if public bodies simply published, in an accessible form, all the data/information that they would be expected to provide to FOI requests"

          That would be a good first step

          Actually PUBLISHING (with personal data redacted) all FOI request responses would take care of most of the reaminer (most FOIs are duplicates anyway)

          Discussion with ICO staff over the years has made it clear that the vast majority of their work is taken up dealing with a few hard core councils/public bodies who see themselves as above things like accountability to the public and who go out of their way to be uncooperative.Most of the rest of the time it's been a matter of a few words of advice or an informal audit of an organisation which _wants_ to do the right thing and has asked them in to assist. The factor that the government has shortfunded them by about 50% doesn't help though.

      3. Orv Silver badge

        Re: FOI...

        In academia the "retaliatory FOIA request" is a real thing. One incident I'm aware of involved a messy divorce where the wife asked for the entire contents of a professor's email box going back several years, via FOIA request. Ostensibly this was to look for evidence of cheating, but a convenient side effect was it created a lot of work for him and made him unpopular with people in the department who had to help him collect and redact all that data, not to mention his coworkers who had all their email chains with him revealed.

        It's also a common political weapon, e.g. if you don't like the results a researcher got, make repeated, onerous FOIA requests to use up their funding and force them to abandon their line of work.

        On the whole I think FOIA is a good thing, but let's not kid ourselves; it's frequently deployed as a club instead of a lantern.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: FOI...

          Surely requesting access to the profs email from the ex wife could easily be labelled vexatious and therefore not require complying with.

          1. Orv Silver badge

            Re: FOI...

            Surely requesting access to the profs email from the ex wife could easily be labelled vexatious and therefore not require complying with.

            Depends on the state, and even then it's a touchy issue. For obvious reason it's generally considered a bad idea to allow agencies to unilaterally declare that they don't need to answer a particular person's FOIA request.

            Another fun example was when Seattle started having police wear bodycams, then had to backtrack on the program when someone filed a FOIA request for every bodycam video they'd recorded. They were required to redact videos to remove innocent parties but didn't have the staffing to handle that much video, so they dropped the bodycam program until a solution could be found. The person freely admitted they only made the request to prove a point.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: FOI...

        So you admit you know what they are asking for, but because of the phrasing can wriggle out of providing them that. Kind of against the spirit of FOI isn’t it? I’ve had requests where they just flat out ignored my clearly written question. Guess it must have gone to someone like yourself. Wanker of the highest order.

      5. hoola

        Re: FOI...

        FOI does have it's uses however it is routinely abused for commercial reasons. There are certain people who will send out all sorts of complicated requests to every council in the country. Exactly why should a FOI request response to equipment inventories that go down to model numbers and sometimes serial numbers. It is not what the FOI act is for. This is invariably business trying to get contract information. It also wastes a huge amount of time in departments that are already over stretched and under resourced. Sure there will be lazy employees everywhere but local government has suffered so much budget cuts there is bugger all fat left. Most are struggling to provide the statutory minimum. Where there are problems they are invariably with the elected members, not the employees (Northampton).

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    It comes about 56 years too late as far as I'm concerned.

  6. ratfox Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    What about HR records?

    There are countries, like Germany, where employees can request their complete file from HR, including interview results and peer feedback. Does GDPR mean anybody in Europe can do that now?

    1. Uberior

      Re: What about HR records?

      If the data and records are there... Yes!

      Careful what you wish for though. When I did mine it ended up as kerbside fork-lift truck drop-off of boxes and boxes of A4 on a pallet.

      They were playing silly buggers, so there was boxes full of line-by-line log-on, log-off times, keystroke analysis, security alarm log-in, photocopier and phone "taps" to print or log-in.

      I got the last laugh though. Without warning me it was coming, they did the kerbside drop-off in the middle of winter when I was clearly on the holiday schedule system as being away. Which meant that my confidential data was sitting in my front garden in the snow, thaw and rain for 7 days. The ICO were not impressed...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about HR records?

      > There are countries, like Germany, where employees can request their complete file from HR, including interview results and peer feedback

      Yup, it goes with the culture. In Germany if someone wants to stab you, they will stab you on the chest not the back as in UK, France, etc.

      It does take a while to get used to it but I love being told, and expected to tell, people upfront when something's wrong.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I would like to see...

    ... a few people complaining that their exam results are too good, and applying to have a few grades knocked off - so they don't have to spend the next few years of their lives running up five-figure debts to acquire a piece of paper which won't get them a job now anyway because everyone else has one exactly the same.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I would like to see...

      > a few people complaining that their exam results are too good, and applying to have a few grades knocked off

      I have always appealed if I thought I had been cut slack or there were mistakes in my favour. I am not the only one either.

      > to acquire a piece of paper

      Some people do not care about the piece of paper but they care about the process of learning and discovering.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I would like to see...

        Some people do not care about the piece of paper but they care about the process of learning and discovering.

        Discovering that you don't have to go to university to take part in that process?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I would like to see...

      > so they don't have to spend the next few years of their lives running up five-figure debts

      There are countries where you can get from alright to top-notch education and pay very little to exactly nothing, with full time students getting free transport, discounts, etc.

      Be aware that competition for places can be tough but.

  8. Herring`

    The ICO

    That would be the place that uses Google Analytics.

    (Yes, I know that theoretically this isn't passing PII to Google. Probably.)

  9. evlsamo

    GDPWhuuuut

    It has always been possible to request this information from exam boards, and to appeal and request minutes of said appeal.

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: GDPWhuuuut

      Yes, but now it's free.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To late for me as well

    5 years ago my daughter's school wouldn't support efforts to find out why the whole A level music class gained 'U' grades in their practical work, but reasonable values in their written exams. Especially, given that most played instruments at externally examined grades of 5 to 7!

    This GDPR would have saved us (as a group) being batted away by both school and examining board. (We think that one of them lost the memory stick with all the recordings on and they didn't bother to look for a backup, but just gave 'U' grades instead.)

    1. Uberior

      Re: To late for me as well

      Why not do the formal GDPR enquiry now?

      It's not too late. (Unless they've destroyed the records).

    2. Why Not?

      Re: To late for me as well

      Sounds familiar from 40 years ago, apparently in one subject I got a fail on the exam despite getting Merits in the other subjects and when asking to see the papers 2 days after the results were published they were supposedly shredded. If my father hadn't been a governor we wouldn't have got that 'explanation'. Cost me a year going to another college and getting distinctions...

      FOIR have served the public well. Sorry uncivil servants!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: To late for me as well

      > the whole A level music class gained 'U' grades in their practical work, but reasonable values in their written exams. Especially, given that most played instruments at externally examined grades of 5 to 7!

      Maybe they were just not very good at playing together?

  11. Drew Scriver

    "Please erase all evidence of me and my poor grades..."

    Does the right to be forgotten apply too?

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: Does the right to be forgotten apply too?

      I forget

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: "Please erase all evidence of me and my poor grades..."

      What was the question again? I forgot it.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Please erase all evidence of me and my poor grades..."

      > Does the right to be forgotten apply too?

      Yes of course and no, that (probably) doesn't mean your records will be erased. There are checks and balances.

    4. Orv Silver badge

      Re: "Please erase all evidence of me and my poor grades..."

      Even if it does, I doubt being forgotten means you get to take the exam again.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmmmm that 49.5% grade back in 1979....

    Please Sir...

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Hmmmm that 49.5% grade back in 1979....

      Would probably get you an A today.

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