Hear what Kate, Education lead at law firm Stone King, thinks about changing data legislation and how she ended up as lawyer instead of a teacher.
What’s your role at Stone King?
I am a Senior Associate and also Head of Information Law. My work involves both education and information law issues and often both at once. For example a client might ask for advice on a complex scenario which involves a parental complaint, a father’s access to information about his children and the interpretation of a court order all at once. It can get complicated but I enjoy the challenge.
What made you choose to specialise in the Education sector?
I have always been interested as my parents were both in Education and I was brought up with it. While still a student I worked as a Language Assistant in a German secondary school and even considered teaching at one point. When I first started in practice it was as a commercial property solicitor but I soon realised that it wasn’t inspired by commercial property work. I took a career break while my children were very young and worked as a clerk to governing bodies in the evenings. I found it tremendously interesting and decided that a career change to education law was necessary . I joined Stone King and completely retrained as an education lawyer. Schools typically have a large number of data protection and freedom of information issues and I soon developed a specialism in Information Law. It is detailed and difficult but also involves common sense. In dealing with those issues I have a sense that I am helping clients with something that they find burdensome and that makes it rewarding.
What types of schools do you work with?
Mostly academies but also maintained schools and some independent schools. I cover the whole range from primary to secondary, including faith schools and both selective and non-selective schools.
What are the typical issues or concerns that schools approach you about?
My work is very varied because we have a fixed fee termly retainer service for schools which means that schools can approach us for advice on a wide range of issues and I give advice on many things. I do a large amount of work relating to school admissions, parental complaints, behaviour and attendance but also advise on a large number of freedom of information requests and subject access requests. I also advise on data protection more generally, advising on disclosures, privacy notices and data sharing arrangements for example.
Why are data management and privacy such hot topics for schools right now?
I think awareness has increased considerably. This has been a trend for some time as individuals are becoming more aware of the rights they have to request information under the Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information Act. The GDPR has focussed minds on compliance issues and the recent enforcement action by the ICO against some well known charities such as the British Heart Foundation and the RSPCA has increased awareness across the board.
Do you think school staff managing databases – such as alumni and fundraising teams – need to understand data law?
I don’t think they need to understand it all. That is what lawyers are for. What they need is a basic understanding so that they can spot when there is a data issue and know to be careful and seek further advice.
In your experience, how prepared are schools for the upcoming GDPR changes?
I think most are beginning to think about the issues but they are not really prepared as yet. This is partly because implementation by May 2018 is a far off deadline in school terms but also it is very difficult to prepare at the moment because there is a lack of clarity around the GDPR. Due to Brexit we don’t know how exactly it will be implemented in English Law. Large parts are left to English law and we don’t know what is happening. The Department for Media Culture and Sport has just recently issued a call for views on the GDPR (which closed on 10th May) and there is still more guidance to come from the ICO and at a European level. I am expecting a flurry of activity early in 2018.
Other than GDPR, which is getting a lot of air time, should schools be aware of any other looming legal changes?
The Children and Social Work Act 2017 (not yet in force) will introduce a requirement for LA maintained schools and academies to designate a staff member to promote the educational achievement of previously looked after pupils. There is already a similar requirement in place for looked after pupils. The same Act also gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to require personal, social, health and economic education to be provided to pupils of compulsory school age in primary schools and pupils in secondary schools..
Any funny anecdotes from working with schools?
Once when I was being shown around a school by the Head, she introduced me to the teacher in the reception class as the ‘School’s solicitor’. I heard one child say to another , “What’s a solicitor?” His friend responded, “ It is someone who digs up bones”
Highlights of living/ working in Cambridge?
Cambridge is a very vibrant place with lots of development and growth. The general feeling of great enthusiasm rubs off. I guess it is similar to working in London but without the long commute.
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