School or Home Tuition Sales Agency?

Education Guardian

An article in yesterday’s EducationGuardian caught my eye, and not because of the parental anger at schools pressure selling private tuition. What concerns me is the blatant direct marketing of a third party’s services by a school.

The story, if you did not click on the link, concerned parents’ anger at receiving letters signed by school headteachers on school headed notepaper marketing a DVD home tuition scheme of the Student Support Centre, a trading name of The Student Support Centre (UK) Limited (who, incidentally, fail to give their company name anywhere on their website, as far as I can see).  EducationGuardian discovered that the Student Support Centre pays schools an administrative fee for this marketing, but the article is unclear about what this fee is.  Anthony Lee, founder and chairman of the Student Support Centre, is quoted as saying he makes a “small token payment of up to £160”.

From a data protection point of view, the most obvious question is, do the schools that cooperate with the Student Support Centre or other home tuition companies include direct marketing as a purpose in their data protection notices?  Personal data, which in these circumstances must include the parents’ names and addresses for school pupils, must be processed in a fair and lawful manner.  To be fair and lawful, the person who “owns” the personal data must give their details and the  purposes for which the data will be processed (see paragraph 1 of Part I – the First Data Protection Principle – and paragraph 1 of Part II of the Data Protection Act 1998, Schedule 1).  Also, personal data cannot be processed in any manner incompatible with any stated (and notified) purpose or purposes (paragraph 2 of Part I, the Second Data Protection Principle).

There is no data protection fair processing notice or privacy policy for the primary school discussed in the story, Towerbank primary, or Edinburgh City Council, available on their websites, so I cannot comment on the school in question.  However, I would not expect direct marketing to be a usual purpose notified to parents.  As an example of a model schools’ data protection fair processing notice, I am pleased to see that my local council, Hampshire County Council, has an excellent precedent (see here).

Schools may wish to consider whether receipt of a small token payment is enough of an incentive to breach the Data Protection Act 1998, for which monetary penalties of up to £500,000 can be imposed by the Information Commissioner for serious breaches.

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