Information and privacy
Getting information from the school
Can I get access to my school records and other information?
Yes, you’re entitled to access to your school records and other information that the school has about you. You can ask the school for your information by email, letter, phone or in person.
The school has a right to withhold information about you if it is justified by one of these reasons in the Privacy Act:
- you’re under 16 and the school thinks it wouldn’t be in your interests to give you the information
- the information was given to the school by another person, and the school promised them that the information or their identity (or both) would be kept confidential.
If there is a reason to withhold some parts of a document, the school can delete parts and give you some of the information in the document. For example, the school can delete names or addresses if they need to be confidential, and still give you the documents.
Schools are also allowed to give you a summary of the information, rather than all of it.
If the school refuses to give you the information, they have to tell you why.
If you think the school is withholding your information without a good reason, complain to the school first. If you’re not happy with the school’s response, you can complain to the Privacy Commissioner.
If there are mistakes in my school records, can I get them corrected?
Yes, usually. If you think any of the information about you (like your date of birth) is wrong, you can ask the school to correct it. If the school declines to correct the information, they need to tell you why. The school might decline if, for example, they disagree that the information is wrong.
You can then ask them to attach a “statement of correction” to your file. A statement of correction is your opportunity to set out what information you believe is wrong or incorrect, and to explain what you think the information should be. Keep it short.
Schools have to take all reasonable steps to make sure all the information they hold about you is accurate, up-to-date, complete, relevant and not misleading.
Information for parents and whānau
How do I go about getting information about my child from the school?
You can ask for it under the Official Information Act (OIA). This is called an OIA request. You don’t have a right to your child’s school records under the Privacy Act.
Under the OIA, the starting point is that the school has to make the information available. But it can withhold information if there are good reasons for doing so. For example:
- to protect your child’s privacy when they have said things in confidence to a school counsellor
- if giving information you the information could have a serious effect on your child.
The school must tell you why they are withholding the information. If the school refuses to give out information after an OIA request, you can go to the Ombudsmen.
Can other people get information about my child from the school?
Yes, by making an OIA request. The school needs to consider whether there’s a strong public interest to make the information available. The public interest must outweigh your child’s right to have their information protected.
For example, if a news reporter asks a school to explain a particular incident by providing information about students, the school would need to take care around giving out this information.
When the principal has a responsibility to contact you
The principal has to tell you about things that are:
- preventing or slowing your child’ progress through school, or
- are harming their relationships with teachers or other students.
Both parents (or guardians) must be told, even if you are not living together.
You are unlikely to be contacted for minor things like your child talking in class or being late one time, but if the problem keeps occurring you should be told.
Schools, including the board, must follow the rules in the Privacy Act 2020 about handling information. Each school must also appoint a privacy officer, to deal with information requests and generally encourage the school to comply with the privacy laws.
Do schools need student consent to send school reports to their parents or guardians?
No. Schools have to report on a student’s progress and achievement to the student and their parents or guardians.
Who does the school have to give school reports to?
Schools can provide reports to both parents, but usually they only provide them to the main caregiver.
A student might ask the school not to give out information about them to one of their parents. But the school will need to consider the obligation to inform parents of anything the principal thinks is:
- preventing or slowing the student’s progress through the school
- harming the student’s relationships with teachers or other students.
Can one parent stop the school from giving information to the other parent?
Only if they have a court order.
Both parents are entitled to the same information about their child, unless it isn’t reasonable to expect the school to provide the information to both. For example, if one parent lives overseas and can’t be contacted. “Parent” also includes guardians and immediate caregivers in this situation.
If the principal believes there are problems that are slowing a student’s progress or harming their relationships at school, they must take reasonable steps to inform the student’s parents. It makes no difference if the parents are separated.
Can a student stop the school from passing their records on to a particular parent?
A student can ask the school, but schools don’t always have to agree to this. There may be a written parenting agreement or a court order that deals with this, in which case the school would need to comply with the agreement or order.
In other cases, the school’s response would depend on the particular circumstances – including:
- whether the parent is a legal guardian of the student
- the student’s age and level of maturity
- whether there’s a public interest in releasing the information
- the obligation to keep parents and guardians informed about any problems at school.
Do I have the right to see health information that the school holds about my child?
It depends. If your child is under 16, you generally have rights to their health information where the school is providing health services (like through a school nurse).
The school doesn’t have to release health information if it thinks that giving out the information isn’t in your child’s best interest and is more likely to harm them. For example where:
- giving out information might be a breach of trust and could mean the student won’t be willing to access confidential counselling
- sexual health services.
If your request for information is denied, you can complain to the Privacy Commissioner.
It’s best if schools encourage students to share the information themselves with whānau wherever possible.
Do I have the right to see information about my child held by the school counsellor?
No. School counsellors have no legal obligation to inform parents or guardians that a student is receiving counselling, and no obligation to pass on anything the student tells the counsellor.
School counsellors have to comply with the Privacy Act. If they belong to the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, they also have to comply with the association’s Code of Professional Ethics.
The Code makes it clear that all communication between a counsellor and client must be kept confidential, unless the counsellor believes there’s a clear and imminent danger to the client or someone else.
Can the school counsellor give information about my child to the police or Oranga Tamariki?
Only in limited circumstances. For example, if a young person is under 17 and the counsellor believes they have been abused or are at risk of abuse.
For more information, see “Oranga Tamariki / Ministry for Children” in the Community Law Manual