This page provides information on the right of access to information about a child in relation to their education records, medical records and children's services records.
An introduction to access to information
As a general rule, only those with Parental Responsibility will have the right of access to information about a child’s educational, medical and children's services records.
You can find more information about Parental Responsibility here.
Although some education and family law provisions are relevant in understanding the legal position in this area, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 remain the primary sources of legislation. Public and private bodies such as school, surgeries and child protection services have specific obligations in relation to the collection and dissemination of information under the above mentioned statutes.
Education is one area where the presence of Parental Responsibility is a less determinative factor in relation to access to information. This is because the definition of “parent” in education law is much wider than any other field. Under section 576 of the Education Act 1976, “parent” includes a child’s natural parents, anyone with parental responsibility for the child or anyone who is caring for a child.
If the child attends a maintained school, the parent or carer will have a right to access the child’s educational records and information about the child. The educational record can include information about the pupil's academic achievements, correspondence from teachers and major disciplinary incidents, i.e. exclusions.
Note: There is not an equivalent legal right of access to information if the child attends an Academy, Independent or Free School. The parent or carer would have to check the school’s policy to ascertain whether they have a right of access to this information. These rules can also be dictated by the contractual relationship between the school and the parent.
Can a child request information?
Under section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 all data subjects are entitled to know the personal data which is held about them and they can obtain a copy of that information. In the school context, children can request their information though a subject access request. Their request may be denied if the school believe that access to such information may place the child at risk of harm or if they have determined that the child does not have sufficient mental capacity and maturity.
How do I make a request?
The request for information disclosures should be made in writing to the school. For a child’s educational records the common procedure is to make a request in writing to the school’s Board of Governors. The parent should also consult the relevant policies to confirm the procedures, as they could differ slightly from school to school.
The parent could issue a formal complaint to the school if the school denies access to the information.
If a resident parent refuses to disclose medical information about a child, the non-resident parent could directly approach the GP or medical practitioner with their request for information.
For confidentiality purposes, the medical practitioner may ask the parent to demonstrate s/he has Parental Responsibility before the disclosure is made. A complaint can be made to the General Practice Manager if access to information is refused.
If circumstances are as such that a child has relocated and the surgery has changed, a parent who is unaware of the location of the new surgery can write to the Area Health Authority, with proof of Parental Responsibility, and they will provide information in relation to the new practice details.
Children's Services Records
Those with parental responsibility will be able to access information held by Children's Services about both themselves and the wider family where relevant. Parents, or other with Parental Responsibility, will be able to access information about a child if the child is too young or has a disability which prevents them from asking information on their own. You also have the right to see information about their social work policies, procedures and other written records.
There are some instances when Children’s Service can refuse the access to information when:
- “serious harm to the mental or physical health…. would be likely” to happen either to you or someone else if you saw those records;
- The information identifies other people, unless those people have agreed to the information being disclosed. However, Social Workers cannot use this excuse unless the person viewing the information would be likely to cause them significant harm;
- Giving you the information would interfere with the prevention or detection of a crime.
Can children make a subject access request?
Children have the same rights to access the information as adults and no assumption should be made about their level of understanding. However, if the Social Worker decides to conduct a competence assessment it will be permitted. This should be assessed on an individual basis as with all children. Written confirmation that the child understands the nature of the application would also be required.
Care leavers can make a subject access request and it should be processed promptly by the local Children’s Services. The acknowledgement should be sent to the care leaver within 10 working days. The statutory duty requires the Local Authority to deal with a subject access request within 40 days.
How do I make a request?
The request can be made either by mail, email or fax to the local Children’s Services. In certain instances a phone call to the Children’s Services could also suffice.
If you are denied access to information a complaint can be made through following Children's Services complaints procedure.
Do children or young people have a say in whether their personal information is released to parents/carers?
Generally, once a child reaches the age of 16 they will be consulted before their personal information is released to parents/carers. There are instances, for example, where an absent parent requests information and the child does not want them to obtain that information. Whether it be the school, medical practice or children's services, they are entitled to act in accordance with the wishes and feelings of the child and refuse to disclose information where applicable. The requirement to act in accordance with the wishes and feelings of the child will be overridden if they are at risk of significant harm.
What else can I do if I am refused access to information about my child?
The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) are a non-departmental public body which report directly to Parliament. They are sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The ICO provides advice on data protection and freedom of information and a complaint against the relevant body could be issued through them.
Their contact number is 0303 123 1113 or alternatively access the official website for more guidance: https://ico.org.uk/.
Alternatively Civil Legal Advice (0345 345 4345) could be contacted to find out more about your legal aid eligibility.