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Last reviewed on 18 November 2020
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School types: All · School phases: All

Avoid the scaremongering around the GDPR and use our mythbuster to separate the fact from the fiction when it comes to visitor books, photo archives, fines, consent and more.



You'll be fined 20 million euros if you get anything wrong

This is highly unlikely. Although this is the maximum fine available, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which will enforce the regulations in the UK, says that it has "always preferred the carrot to the stick" and will use its powers "proportionately and judiciously".

In other words, huge multi-national corporations might get hit with the maximum fine for a very serious data breach but this is unlikely to be the case for schools.

You need to seek consent for all the personal data you process

You probably won't need to seek consent that often.

You need to have a ‘lawful basis’ (legal reason) for processing personal data, and consent is just 1 of 6 lawful bases you can use.

Only use consent where none of the other bases apply, as the standard for getting consent is very high and individuals can say no or withdraw it at any time, which could cause you problems. Follow our process to decide if any of the other bases apply, before you consider seeking consent.

You can no longer report safeguarding allegations to your LA without consent from those involved

This is related to the myth above.

It isn't true – schools are legally required to report safeguarding allegations to the local authority (LA), and this won't change.

You can't ask visitors to sign in by putting their details into a visitor book

The GDPR will not necessarily require you to change your school's signing-in process.

It's clear that you need to keep certain visitor data for health and safety reasons. Forbes Solicitors assured us this is fine under the GDPR, as long as you only capture and store the data you really need to meet your legal obligations to keep staff and pupils safe.

You must ensure this data remains secure, so review whether your current visitor book poses a risk to this. If it does, you could take additional measures like ensuring each record in the book is covered, so that anyone signing it can only see the next blank record for completion.

The GDPR contains specific rules about how long you can retain records for

The GDPR contains principles for good management of personal data, rather than specific rules on how you must do things. It doesn't set out record retention periods, or particular security measures that you need to put in place.

It's up to you to decide this, based on what is appropriate for your school and the type of personal data you're handling. 

For guidelines on record retention periods, look at the IRMS Records Management Toolkit for Schools. It pre-dates the GDPR, but remains applicable. 

You must destroy all historical photographs of your school that feature people

The rules around personal data, including those set out in the GDPR, only apply to the data of living individuals, so depending on how old your photographs are, the GDPR may not apply at all to your historic photos of former students.

You may also be able to keep historical photos of living individuals, providing you establish a suitable lawful basis. 

Paper records are not compliant with the GDPR

This is also not true. It's fine to keep paper records, as long as you store and use them according to the GDPR principles for data processing. 

The data protection officer can't be an existing member of staff

It's fine for your data protection officer (DPO) to be a current member of staff, provided they meet all the criteria for the role. You'll probably need to make some changes for this arrangement to work, including:

  • Providing them with some data protection training to get them up to the required level of expertise
  • Adjusting their role to make sure they don't have any conflicts of interests

You need to look at how you handle ALL the data you keep in school


The GDPR only applies to personal data, which is any information relating to an identified, or identifiable, person. This may include information such as the person's name, contact details, unique identification number (such as National Insurance number) or online identifier (such as a username).

It may also include anything relating to the person's physical and mental health, genetics, finances, or their physiological, cultural, or social identity.

You don't need to worry about how you handle any data that can't be specifically linked to an individual – including data that has been anonymised.

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