Written answers

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Department of Education and Skills

Primary Online Database

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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543. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the reason her Department is developing a primary online database; the reason her Department is seeking to collect data in relation to the ethnicity and religion of students; the length of time which it is planned to store data collected via the primary online database system; the places this data will be stored; the persons that will have access to this data; if her Department has engaged with the Data Protection Commissioner on this issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4897/15]

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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The Department has developed an individualised electronic database of primary school pupils (POD – the Primary Online Database). The primary purpose of POD will be to monitor the education progress of primary pupils (in DES aided schools), throughout the primary system and onwards to post primary level and to help them develop their full educational potential. Once up and running other secondary purposes of POD will include becoming the basis for the allocation of teachers and capitation grants. Aggregated POD data will also be used for the production and publication of primary level statistics.Parental consent is also required to answer the questions relating to religion and ethnic or cultural background. The information in relation to religion is being gathered purely for statistical purposes – there will be no other use made of this information. In relation to ethnicity and cultural identity, organisations like the Irish Traveller Movement and advocates of greater social equality have been campaigning for a record of Traveller identity to be kept as part of a learner database for many years. This is to allow us to determine the effect of targeted educational interventions on Travellers, and indeed to direct the additional capitation grant funding to schools who enrol Traveller pupils.The current retention policy for Primary Online Database (POD) data is for records to be maintained for the longer of either the period up to the pupil's 30th Birthday or for a period of ten years since the student was last enrolled in a primary school. In future schools will no longer be required to keep the Clárleabhar therefore POD will be the official register of pupils in schools and data will be retained to allow pupils to obtain their records in the future. The Department's retention policy is for audit and accounting purposes as pupil's data is used in the allocation of teaching posts and funding to schools. The policy also serves to trace retention trends in the education system, is important for longitudinal research and policy formation, as well as being an important statistical indicator nationally and internationally. Aggregate and not individual data is used for the majority of these purposes. My Department has consulted with the Data Protection Commissioner in December 2013 and no issues of concern were raised at that time. My Department will review, on an ongoing basis, our retention policy taking account of any concerns raised. I am also aware that the Data Protection Commissioner has made clear that there is still active engagement between her office and my Department on this issue. I welcome that confirmation.The Department takes the protection of pupil's data very seriously. Pupil data is stored securely in the Department's Oracle database. This database is hosted on the Department's servers which are located in the Revenue Commissioners data-centre in St Johns' Road. Access to the servers is protected by both Revenue and Government firewalls. Staff of the Revenue Commissioners do not have access to the data in the database. POD application roles have been developed which limit school staff to viewing and maintaining their own pupil records. Access within the Department to POD data is limited to the POD team which is currently less than 15 people. No agency or other Government Department will have direct access to the Primary Online Database.


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