Exam results spiked by 'barmy' data fears

By Mary Stevens

Local newspapers have once again been stopped from publishing information that their readers value because of the Data Protection Act.

Newspapers in Cornwall won’t be able to print exam results this summer because of schools’ fears that they will be in contravention of the act, following advice from Cornwall County Council and Cornwall Association of Secondary Heads.

This is the latest ban in which newspapers have been unable to carry information traditionally provided by local schools. Earlier this year, editors complained they were unable to carry pictures of new classes because the schools would not release the children’s names.

Schools were advised that permission should be gained from each pupil before the lists of results were issued to the media. As the advice was received after the pupils left school, no results will be issued.

A letter from the council to local newspapers said: “We realise it may be disappointing to your readers that schools are not able to supply you with exam results lists this year, but seek your understanding that we have to be cautious with regard to this legislation.”

Terry Lambert, publisher of Packet Newspapers, based in Falmouth, said the ban had come as a shock. “The school results are probably the most eagerly awaited news times of the year. We normally do a lot on it because we have got four very local titles. People love to see what they and their schoolmates got in the paper, and parents and grandparents love it as well. This is quite a shock. It’s incredible.

“The Data Protection Act has been cited for a number of things, but I never imagined it would cover this. I never thought a law would have been passed that would restrict the publishing of exam results and I think it’s barmy.”

The Packet series is letting readers know of the ban and calling on politicians to explain why this is happening.

In a comment piece, the newspaper asks: “Did politicians who voted for this law in the House of Commons really intend it to be used to stop examination results from being published in local newspapers or is this yet another example of over-zealous bureaucrats making a meal out of a new rulebook? Surely parliament did not intend to ban the publication of exam results in local newspapers?”

It adds: “Does the Government want even more restrictions on freedom of information?”

The county council is following advice issued by the information minister, which recommends that: “Schools should ensure that pupils and their parents are made aware that exam results may be published. When informing pupils or parents that exam results are published, schools should therefore advise them of the right to object.”

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