Legal flapping over a school file request 

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Reader ROBERT McQUIRE, of Melba, had a simple request: to look at his son’s primary school file. Nothing prepared him for what followed…

MY wife and I have a son attending an ACT primary school and decided we’d like to view his school file. After a meeting with the school principal, I was told this would be fine. 

We also viewed the “Access Student Records Policy” on the ACT Government Education webpage where, at Section 2.4, it confirms that as parents we have access to our son’s records. 

To wit: “2.4 Student and parent access to records: Parents and students can request access to records held by a school or by the Directorate and can request amendments where they believe the record is incorrect, out of date, incomplete or misleading. 

“In general, a student’s parents are able to obtain access to their child’s records, at least until the child turns 18. This will always depend on the particular circumstances surrounding the request for access.”

So, I went to the school to view my son’s file where the office staff advised I would need to request access from the ACT Education Legal Liaison Section. 

Not wishing to wait for the interminable wheels of bureaucracy to turn, I placed a call, while still at the school, to the ACT Education Directorate. 

I explained I wished to view my son’s file and would appreciate it if they could arrange for me to do so. I advised I’d wait at the school.

The official indicated she would take my request to the appropriate person then get back to me.

She promptly called back 15 minutes later and explained I would still need to send through a request to the ACT Education Legal Liaison Section before I could have access to my son’s student file.

When asked why I couldn’t view his file while I was there, I was informed “they” needed time to review the file and redact any third-party information. 

So I’ve sent my request to view our son’s file to ACT Education Legal Liaison, but I ask myself (and one all parents of kids attending ACT schools should be asking themselves): What’s the point? 

Part of the reason for wanting to view his file is to see if the record is correct, incomplete or misleading and, importantly, who has said what regarding our son and his educational progress.

We wanted to see the raw data and comments pertaining to his performance and progress within the school. And, yes, if we found anything untoward, challenge it or request changes.

Like an auditor performing an on-the-spot audit, I wanted to view his record right then, not some time later. This would prevent anyone making changes the Education Directorate or the school deemed sensitive or legally compromising. 

But the reality is that all parents of ACT school children really don’t have the right to view their child’s file or at least an unsanitised version of it.

Note the email address for requesting access: legalliason@act.gov.au, which indicates straight away they’re taking a defensive position, checking legally, to ensure they remove any information they feel may become litigious.

The official indicated they required time to redact any third-party information. Well if the directorate really had any intention of allowing parents to see the real information in their child’s file they could have me sign a non-disclosure agreement or statutory declaration then and there and provide access in real time. 

Any delay simply provides ACT Education time to ensure the file is sanitised and squeaky clean. And even if this doesn’t occur, the time delay certainly provides that perception.

My request is now being processed and, at some point in the future, I’ll read my son’s school records in his school file. But if there were anything in his file that I needed to see – it will have long since been removed by that time. 

Open, honest and transparent government? Yeah, right. Just sit back, relax and let them decide what you can or can’t see or know about your child’s experience in an ACT government educational institution. 

Grumpy is an occasional column dedicated to things that get up your nose. Readers are invited to vent (typically around 300 words, please) at editor@citynews.com.au

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not sure I’m following this. You were told by the principal that you could view your sons file. Did you speak to your sons teacher beforehand or just go to the principal demanding to see the file? When you went to view the file did you just turn up and expect the file to be produced ‘right then, not some time later’?. It seems to me that when you turned up and the file wasn’t available you rang the Directorate demanding the file and they got back to you 15 minutes later. Pretty fast response considering.

  2. Yeah, I understand your frustration but the Privacy Act requires them to protect other people’s privacy. It’s a balancing act between your needs and the needs of others.

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