Appointing a data protection officer

Whatever the size and setting of your school, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) places high expectations on you to protect the personal data in your care. You are accountable and must demonstrate your commitment to the Regulation by putting in place appropriate processes and procedures and, under Article 37(1), appointing an appropriate DPO (data protection officer). 

The requirement to appoint a DPO applies to all public authorities, which means all maintained schools and academies must appoint a suitable individual. The requirement also applies to processing that requires regular and systematic monitoring of data subjects, or processing of special category data (such as medical information or biometrics) on a large scale – both of which may apply to independent educational institutions. 

Find the answer to common queries relating to schools and the DPO below. 

What is a DPO? 

  • The DPO is an independent monitoring and advisory role that supports your compliance with the Regulation and helps you understand your obligations. 
  • They act as the point of contact for data subjects, e.g. pupils, parents and staff, and supervisory authorities like the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office). 
  • They should be an independent, experienced GDPR practitioner, with knowledge of data protection law. They should be adequately resourced, and report to the highest leadership level. 
  • They can be external and shared across a group of schools, including schools with formal relationships (such as trusts) and those without. 
  • They can be an employee, but there cannot be a conflict of interest with other roles. 
  • They provide advice regarding DPIAs (data protection impact assessments). A DPIA must be carried out where a planned or existing processing operation “is likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of individuals”. If you are introducing a new system such as an MIS (management information system), or a catering or parents’ payment system, a DPIA must be carried out. 

What skills does the DPO need? 
The GDPR does not specify a required level of expertise for DPOs, but it must be proportionate to the sensitivity, complexity and amount of data you are processing. The DPO should have expertise in UK and European data protection laws and practices, and an in-depth understanding of the Regulation, including how the responsibilities of data controllers and processors are distributed. 

The DPO should understand your school’s data, data processing activities, and the information systems that underpin them – including information security and data protection activities. They should also have sound knowledge of the school’s core activities, administrative rules and procedures. 

Who can be the school’s DPO? 
The Regulation states that the DPO should be impartial and that there must not be any conflict of interest. This makes it difficult to appoint a member of staff to the role. They must also operate independently and cannot be given instructions related to the tasks they perform as DPO. 

Do independent schools need a DPO? 
Although not considered a public body under the GDPR,independent schools may conduct processing that requires regular and systematic monitoring on a large scale, or large-scale processing of special category data, either or both of which would require the appointment of a DPO. Even where this is not the case, appointing a DPO is a wise decision for independent schools and demonstrates that you take data protection seriously. 

Is an external DPO suitable for schools? 
Choosing an external DPO service offers peace of mind. An external DPO has the extensive data protection and legal knowledge you need to have confidence that you are meeting your obligations, and can offer a completely impartial, independent service that avoids potential conflicts of interest. 

Some organisations opt to support an external DPO by appointing an internal head of data protection or data protection lead. This person acts as a conduit for the DPO’s expert advice within the school, organising and delivering training, implementing key processes and procedures, and working with the DPO to facilitate DSARs (data subject access requests), DPIAs, etc.  

Data protection training and DPO support services
We offer a selection of products and services to support your organisation’s GDPR compliance. Our certified GDPR training courses offer a structured learning path for data protection and information security professionals. Our EU GDPR Learning Path includes certificated entry-level DPO training courses, preparing colleagues to fulfil the DPO role. GRCI Law offers a DPO as a Service to support schools in fulfilling their responsibilities.

Click the links to find out more.
Certified DPO Training Course
Certified Accelerated DPO Training Course
DPO as a Service from GRCI Law

Find out more

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