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GDPR: seeking consent for processing personal data
Use our process to help you work out whether you need to seek consent for processing personal data under the GDPR. If you do, download our template consent forms, or use our checklist to make sure your own forms meet the requirements.
This article is based on guidance from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO):
Find out when you need to seek consent
In short, probably not very often.
Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), you need to have a ‘lawful basis’ (legal reason) for processing personal data. Consent is one of 6 lawful bases you can use.
Only use consent if none of the other lawful bases apply
There are a lot of criteria to meet to ensure consent is genuine and valid, and individuals can say no or withdraw their consent at any time.
This could cause you problems – what if you asked a parent whether they want to receive any communications from the school, and they opted out? You'd still need to record their details and contact them, as you're legally required to report to them on their child's progress, but you've unfairly given them the illusion of control.
So, before choosing consent, work through the other 5 lawful bases here and decide if any of those apply instead. If they do (and they're likely to), it will make your life easier. If the other bases don't apply, you'll have to follow the rules in this article to seek consent. .
Examples where you WILL need to seek consent
These will usually be situations where you want to use personal data for things like fundraising, marketing and promotional activities. Examples where you'll probably need consent include:
- Using names, photos, videos or other identifying information about pupils on your school’s website, in your school's newsletter, or other promotional material
- Sending marketing material to prospective parents
- Sending fundraising requests to alumni
You must seek parental consent if you're processing pupils' biometric data, like their fingerprints. This is due to separate legislation to the GDPR, which we explain here.
Examples where you WON'T need to seek consent
Situations that are covered by other lawful bases include:
- Sharing child protection concerns and records with the appropriate people or agencies
- Submitting census data to the Department for Education
- Sharing assessment data with other teachers, to allow you to moderate work
- Holding parents’ contact details, as you’re required to do this. However, if you want to contact them for reasons beyond your legal obligations (for example, about fundraising activities), you’ll likely need to seek consent
Ask yourself these questions to work out if you need to seek consent
- Have we checked that none of the other lawful bases can apply to the personal data we want to process?
If yes, proceed to the next question. If no, work through the other lawful bases.
- Can we offer a genuine choice to people about whether we process the data, or would we still process the data anyway?
If you can offer a genuine choice, proceed to the next question. If you would still process the data, for example because you're legally obliged to collect it, take another look at the other lawful bases as one is likely to be more appropriate.
- Do we require consent to data processing as a condition of a service? If so, is the consent necessary to provide that service?
If no, proceed to the next question. If yes, and the consent is essential to providing that service, look at the 'contract' lawful basis instead. If yes, and you could provide the service without the data processing, look at the other lawful bases instead.
- Are we in a position of power over the individual, where they're likely to feel that they have no choice but to consent?
If yes, consider another lawful basis (as public authorities, it’s likely that you're in a position of power). If you think consent would be freely given and there's no pressure to consent, then proceed to the next question.
- Are we asking for a child's consent?
If no, then great, you can use consent. Use the appropriate template form below to do so, or if you're creating your own consent form, use the checklist below to make sure the consent you're seeking is genuine and valid.
If yes, you can still use consent but you need to be confident the child can understand the data protection implications.
The GDPR doesn't define the age at which children can provide their own consent, but 12 and over is usually appropriate, although there is an exception for biometric data, as explained above. Consider asking for parental consent instead if you're unsure, and see our article on age thresholds for consent for more information.
As above, use one of our template forms below, or the checklist if creating your own consent form.
In another article we look at how 2 schools collect and record consent to process pupils' personal data under the GDPR.
If you do, download our template consent forms
Use these forms, which cover the situations where you're most likely to need to seek consent for processing personal data.
Before you use them, make sure you’ve asked yourself the questions in the grey box above, to make sure it’s the most appropriate lawful basis.
We'd like to thank our associate education expert, Mark Trusson, for his help making these. They've been approved by Forbes Solicitors.
We've also created a generic form you can download and adapt:
Use our checklist to create your own GDPR-compliant form
If none of our template consent forms above are relevant to your situation, you can use our checklist to help you create your own form for genuine, valid consent.
When you’re seeking consent from people, you must:
- Offer genuine choice and control
- Be clear and concise, so people can understand exactly why you want to process their data
- Allow people to positively opt in – so you can’t use pre-ticked boxes, or any other method of consent by default
- Seek a very clear and specific statement of consent
- Be specific – vague or blanket consent isn’t enough
- Separate consent requests from other terms and conditions
- Tell people how they can withdraw their consent if they want, and then make it easy for them to do this
- Keep evidence of consent
Refresh consent when appropriate
Keep consents under review
There are no rules on when you have to refresh consent.
However, you should keep your consents under review, as you'll need to refresh them if anything changes which would mean the original consent isn't specific or informed enough, for example if your way of processing individuals' data or your purposes for processing it changes.
Additionally, if you're relying on parental consent, this won't automatically expire once their child reaches the age at which they can consent for themselves, but you may need to refresh consent more regularly at this point.
If you're in any doubt about whether consent is still valid, you should refresh it.
Consider automatic refreshers at appropriate intervals
Whether you decide to do this will depend on:
- People's expectations
- Whether you're in regular contact with the individuals
- How disruptive repeated consent requests would be to the individuals
If in doubt, the ICO recommends you consider refreshing consent every 2 years.
You could also consider sending occasional reminders of their right to withdraw consent and how to do so.
What to do when consent was mistakenly sought
If you asked for consent from someone to use their personal data, and you later find out that another lawful basis would be more appropriate for one or more of these tasks, then:
- Review your privacy notice to see if it needs to be updated
- Send out a letter to everyone you asked for this consent from, including those who did and didn't give their consent, explaining the situation and that you no longer require their consent to carry out the relevant task(s)
Use our template letter to help you with this:
This is based on advice we were given by Forbes Solicitors.
Mark Trusson is a headteacher and National College accredited school improvement partner. He has previously served as the principal and director of a multi-academy trust, and has expertise in the innovative use of ICT with pupils and leading church schools.
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