Request by non-custodial parent for access to child’s school reports
Request by non-custodial parent for access to child’s school reports—child specifically asked that reports be withheld—reports addressed to student and caregivers—relevance of s 77 of the Education Act 1989 to public interest considerations—good reason to refuse under s 9(2)(a) but short statement provided to non-custodial parent to the effect that there was nothing which required reporting in terms of the Education Act
These two cases involved requests by the non-custodial parent of a secondary school student for copies the student’s school reports. In each case contact between parent and child had been minimal. Each school had provided the non-custodial parent with copies of their child’s reports in the past, but in both cases the students had turned 16 years of age, and had specifically asked their respective schools not to send any future reports to the non-custodial parent.
In the course of the investigations it was established that the purpose of school reports is to record a student’s achievements. Most comments are addressed to the student concerned, although some are directed at the student’s caregivers. In each of the cases under investigation the school felt the student was mature enough to decide whether or not the non-custodial parent should receive the reports and on this basis each school declined to provide the reports to the requesters in reliance upon section 9(2)(a) of the OIA.
Taking account of the particular background circumstances of each case, there seemed little doubt that there was a privacy interest which required protection in terms of section 9(2)(a). In reaching this view, weight was given to the fact that school reports necessarily contain a great deal of personal information about a student. Having regard to the purpose for which the reports are prepared, there was nothing in either case to suggest that the report had been prepared for the non-custodial parent’s benefit. Nevertheless, consideration still had to be given in each case to whether there were any countervailing public interest considerations in terms of section 9(1) of the OIA favouring disclosure.
There are clearly situations where there is a strong public interest in a parent, parents or caregivers obtaining copies of school reports. However, in neither of these two cases, was the requester the caregiver, for whom the reports had, in part, been prepared, and neither parent had been actively involved with their child for some years. Due weight also had to be given to the views of the students, who were regarded by their schools as mature enough to decide who should receive the reports. Another factor taken into account in assessing the weight of the public interest considerations favouring disclosure was section 77 of the Education Act. This section requires parents, including non-custodial parents, to be told of any matters that, in the opinion of the principal, are detrimental to a student’s progress. However, in neither of the cases under investigation were there any such matters to report.
After considering all the circumstances, and following consultation with the Privacy Commissioner, the view was formed that in each case section 9(2)(a) applied to the school reports. The view was also formed that, provided a short statement was made available to the non-custodial parent to the effect that there was nothing which required reporting in terms of section 77 of the Education Act, there was no overriding public interest in terms of section 9(1) in release of the reports.
This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.