The number of cyber-attacks across industries continues to grow, with around 30% of businesses reporting a cyber incident in the last 12 months. Schools are particularly vulnerable to these attacks, as cybercriminals look to secure vital school data and hold the school to ransom.  

Understaffed IT teams, the increase in technology use, and the variety of devices used by staff has also left schools more at risk compared to previous years.  

The goal of GDPR is to help mitigate these risks to the data stores of all businesses within the UK and Europe. It also provides a clear framework for your approach to a breach of data.  

While this legislation is a requirement, its goal is to help your school implement best practices for the safety of your sensitive data stores. Keep your data processing practices secure for the safety of your data and the efficiency of your departments. 

Who is responsible for GDPR compliance in schools? 

The GDPR legislation splits the protection of data across two main roles: the data processor and the data protector. Within the school environment, this could cover a variety of job roles.  

Within the context of the legislation, the data processor is the party or parties that determine what or whose data to collect and why that information is needed. This will likely be those representing the school as an institution. 

The data processor is the party or parties collecting the data. The processor ensures information is stored and gathered securely and ensures that data retention policies are adhered to. Within the school, this might be the data manager, a third party, or responsibilities might fall across a number of staff.  

GDPR compliance in schools

For many schools, these responsibilities will fall primarily to the data manager. Teaching and other staff members that utilise the software will need to take part in training on its safe use and their data protection responsibilities. But overall, IT teams will need to make sure effective safeguards are in place. 

What are the primary risks? 

By not prioritising GDPR within your school, there are obvious risks to data privacy and security. But what does this really mean for your school? 

Direct consequences include fines and reprimands from relevant authorities in the event of a breach, which could considerably impact finances and your ability to operate efficiently using your data. But this is just the specific impact on your institution. 

Your school community would be heavily impacted by a breach in GDPR. Depending on the data, individuals within your school could see considerable social ramifications. Data like special needs information, data relating to staff pay, student achievement records and child protection records all hold some of the most sensitive information relating to individuals at your school. 

Financial loss is also a considerable risk. Access to your financial data or billing software represents a considerable risk for independent schools.  

GDPR compliance in schools

It’s also worth considering the potential for reputational damage caused by a GDPR or data breach at your school. While you may be able to rectify the losses from a database perspective – it’s more challenging to fix the impact on your school's overall brand image.  

These are just a few reasons that protecting your school’s data stores and prioritising GDPR is critical to your students, staff, and overall establishment. 

How to ensure GDPR compliance 

GDPR is extensive and it’s important to have a complete understanding of the requirements for your school. Your data managers should ensure that your primary systems are set up to adhere to this legislation. However, there are a few key components to consider to best protect your school and your school community: 

  • Age of consent: The impact of this will vary depending on the school years that you work with. However, it’s important to recognise that students over the age of 16 should give their own consent under GDPR, rather than their parents. Make sure you’re checking in and providing the right consent management features. 
  • Parental consent: For the vast majority of independent school students, their parents will need to manage their consent preferences. It’s important to implement an efficient and simple method for collecting and updating these consents to ensure accuracy – preferably at the application stage, which is a key time to manage some vital GDPR requirements prior to a student starting with your school. 
  • DSARs: The ability to generate reports on data stores relating to individuals is important, and you might need to do this at any time. Clean and organised data stores are vital to this step, as well as clear data retention policies. 

GDPR compliance in schools

  • Social media and website content: While featuring images of students, parents or teachers might seem like a great way to highlight the positive environment of your school, you need consent from parents or students to use these images. Ensure that everything you post online has been ‘signed off’ by the featured parties. Consent management features should make this process simpler. 
  • Secure software stores: The security of your management systems and databases is the foundation of your ability to adhere to GDPR. Consider implementing a cloud-based management software as the source of the truth for your school data. 

This isn’t an exhaustive list. Take the time to check in with your IT and data management teams to ensure that GDPR continues to be a priority with updates to software and changes in the legislation. Your choice of software can also support you in managing GDPR where possible. 

Software for data protection 

While GDPR will always present a challenge for schools, your software can help make the process easier and provide some level of automation. You need a dedicated system that understands the need for data protection and the specific tools you’ll require as a school. 

The iSAMS Data Protection module integrates seamlessly with the iSAMS MIS and the parent and admissions portal. Offering consent management features, the module enables you to gather the right consents at the application stage. Parents or students can then make changes to their consents within their dedicated portals. 

You can also manage the full progress of DSARs (Data Subject Access Requests) from request to completion – with full individual data reports available. 

If you’d like to learn more about the iSAMS Data Protection module, you can find details here. If you’re new to iSAMS, request an iSAMS MIS demo below to see what powerful, integrated school software can do for independent schools.