The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

If exams are cancelled, does the exam scripts and exam marks exemption still apply to information teachers use to decide student grades?

Yes, the exam scripts and exam mark exemption still applies to the information teachers use to award students’ grades. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, pupils may not be able to sit their exams. Instead, schools and colleges may use alternative assessment methods to award grades.

The exemption is not limited to written exams. It includes any academic, professional or other assessment that teachers use to determine a candidate’s knowledge, skill or ability or make an assessment of their performance.

The exemption means that you do not have to provide candidates with copies of information they record themselves during an exam or assessment. This includes their answers to exam questions or their own written work and assessments.

However, the exemption does not cover other relevant information to a student’s grade (such as their teacher assessments and relating comments). If a student requests this information before the final results are announced the exemption allows for longer response times. This helps ensure that students get their final grades at the same time. We explain this in more detail in the FAQs below.

Does the exam scripts and exam mark exemption mean that we don’t have to provide the information and evidence we use to determine students grades?

The UK GDPR gives the public a right to see information organisations hold about them, unless an appropriate exemption applies. The exam script and exam marks exemption has two parts. As outlined above, it means that students don’t have the right to access information they record during an exam or assessment. Therefore, students do not have a right to get copies of their answers from preliminary or mock exams or their own written work and assessments.

However, you are not exempt from providing other personal data you record about the student in assessing their performance and deciding their grades. In this instance, the exemption allows you to delay the release of this information. You may receive subject access requests (SARs) from students asking to see copies of information about how teachers decide their grades. This may include information about:

  • their teacher assessments;
  • how they make these decisions;
  • performance records; or
  • email exchanges discussing a student’s provisional grade or teacher assessment.

If a student requests this information before the final results are announced, the exemption allows for longer response times. The timeframe for responding to these requests is either:

  • within five months of receiving the request; or
  • within 40 days of results being announced, whichever date is earliest.

You need to deal with requests students make after the final results are announced as a normal SAR, ie within one month of receipt of the request (see the How long do we have to comply section in the right of access guidance for more detail).

Once results are published, and subject to data protection and any other relevant legal considerations, you may choose to proactively provide students with the information submitted to the exam boards (ie their teacher or centre assessed grades) regardless of whether you receive any SARs. If you decide to take this proactive approach, you need to be transparent about taking this step and provide advance notification (wherever possible) that you are doing so. You should also consider what additional information and guidance you may need to provide, so that students understand the context in which you decided their final calculated result.

Our qualifications regulator asked us to disclose provisional grade information to students, ahead of the official results day in August. Does the exemption prevent us from following this?

No. Not all approaches to exams are the same across the UK. In Wales and Scotland, the qualifications regulators asked schools to share provisional grades with students, before they submit them to the exam board. Schools and colleges should follow the procedures and guidance from their relevant regulators and exam boards, to ensure that the assessment and appeals processes run as intended.

The exam scripts and exam mark exemption does not prevent schools and colleges disclosing information to students as required under those procedures. However, the exam script exemption would apply if a student tries to use their data protection rights to access additional information, outside of the relevant regulator or exam board’s procedures.

You can find further information on what the requirements mean for schools, colleges and teachers in Wales and Scotland on their websites:

Scotland (SQA) - Qualifications guidance 2020-21 - SQA

Wales (Qualification Wales) – Qualifications Wales / Guidance documents

In the rest of the UK, the grades that the school submit to the exam boards are treated as confidential, pending results day. You can find further information on the requirements in England and Northern Ireland on their websites:

England (Ofqual) - GCSE, AS and A level qualifications in 2021 - GOV.UK

Northern Ireland (CCEA) - Summer 2021 Awarding | CCEA

Can we discuss the information with our students, such as discussing their performance and the evidence we intend to use?

Yes. The purpose behind the exam marks exemption is to prevent candidates from getting their final results early, ensuring students receive the final moderated results at the same time. Data protection law encourages schools and colleges to be open and transparent with students and parents where possible. It does not prevent you from discussing appropriate information with them, such as their performance or the evidence you use to award their grades.

What if the requested information could reveal something about another individual?

When disclosing information, whether that be proactively or in response to a SAR, you need to consider if the information you are providing would reveal something about another individual (eg another student). If so, then you need to think about whether it would be reasonable to disclose it rather than withhold it.

See the ‘What should we do if the data includes information about other people?’ section in the right of access guidance for more detail.