Examinations and Assessment

These guidance notes should be read in conjunction with the University's Data Protection Policy.  This document is Appendix VIII to the policy.

Section 1: Subject Access Request

Under the Data Protection Act 1998, students have the right to request to see a copy of all information held on them by the University. This right extends to various documents/information collated during the examinations and assessment process.

Exam scripts

Exam scripts are specifically exempt from Subject Access Request provisions. This means that the University is NOT obliged to provide students with copies of exam scripts upon request.

Examiners comments [including external examiners comments]

  • Whilst exam scripts are specifically exempt from Subject Access Requests, comments made by examiners are not. This means that students are entitled to a copy of all comments made by both internal and external examiners. If comments are made directly onto the examination script, and the department chooses NOT to make the full script available upon request, the examiners' comments must be reproduced onto a separate form. It is therefore recommended that comments should be made on attached sheets, rather than directly onto examination scripts.
  • In all cases, examiners' comments must be provided to students in "intelligible form" - this may mean providing a "word processed" version if hand-written comments are potentially illegible.
  • All examiners should be reminded that their comments will be provided to students if requested and should therefore ensure that all comments can be justified and that no careless remarks are made on exam scripts, in emails/memos to colleagues, or on mark sheets. Any informal notes passed between examiners in the course of marking an examination script or piece of coursework should be disposed of securely once the final mark has been agreed and there is genuinely no need for the notes to be retained.

Pre-Programme Board/Programme Board and Module Board reports

  • Students have the right to request copies of the relevant sections (i.e. relating to them) of Pre-Programme Boards/Programme Board/Module Board reports at which their results are discussed; (this includes recorded discussion of impaired performance claims). The University must provide a copy of the report (or relevant sections) either within 5 months of the request or 40 days after the official release of results (whichever is sooner).
  • Copies of Pre-Programme Boards/Programme/Module Board reports have to be disclosed even if students are not actually discussed by name. This is because the data can be linked back to the student using other information (typically the student id number).
  • If Pre-Programme Boards/Programme/Module Board reports contain information relating to third parties (typically other students), these data should be anonymised or removed before releasing the report to the student that has made the request. In some cases, it may be necessary to obtain consent from a third party. If a third party cannot be contacted or refuses to give consent, the University may still disclose the report if it deems this to be reasonable; (this will depend on duty of confidentiality owed to the third party).
  • Staff should note that, where the third party is a member of staff or an external examiner who has given their opinion of a student in a professional capacity, the Information Commissioner is likely to consider refusal of consent as unreasonable. Therefore academic staff and external examiners are advised that opinions expressed in a professional capacity may well be disclosed if requested, and confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. External Examiners will be informed of this possibility on appointment, or at the point at which they are asked to supply their report(s)/comments (see Section 4)

Automated decision making

  • If requested, the University must be able to provide a formal statement that explains the logic behind any assessment based entirely on automated means. This includes single tests (e.g. multiple choice) that form only a part of some larger assessment and any classification or grading system that operates using automated means. Wherever possible such information should be supplied to candidates before assessment, especially if the marking scheme involves non-apparent rules (such as the subtraction of marks for incorrect answers).
  • Students have the right to demand (in writing) that no decision that significantly affects them is taken solely on the basis of automatic processing. Students are entitled to ask the University to manually review any marks generated solely automatic means (such as optical mark reading).

Section 2: Publication and Release of Results

  • Examination results (includes other forms of assessment such as coursework marks, module marks, interim tests) are personal data and therefore should not be disclosed to third parties without consent. This includes the common practice of publishing results via posting on public notice-boards, as well as the announcement or publication of results at graduation.
  • Under the Data Protection Act, the University has an obligation to explain to students where their results may be published and to provide a mechanism through which they can object to their results being displayed in all or any particular form (includes email notification for class lists). The Registry will undertake to email students to explain where, and how, students might expect to see their results published.
  • The student registration form provides all students with the opportunity to opt out of having their results displayed. Students are advised to read their registration forms carefully. If students do not opt out of the publication of their results, they are understood to have consented. University systems are in place to ensure that these students’ results are not displayed on routine pass lists generated from the student record but if you are producing manual or email lists of results, please check whether or not individual students have opted out of the publication of examination (includes coursework) marks. This information is recorded on the student record and is available to departmental administrators through the student database and to registered academic staff through the Student Details for Personal Tutors Webpages.
  • If a student asks to see a copy of their results, the University must provide access to all examination/assessment marks either within 5 months of the request or 40 days after the official release of results (whichever is sooner). This extends to all students, regardless of whether or not they owe the University any money. Therefore, the practice of withholding examination marks from students in debt must end. Please note that the University does not routinely release results to students that owe the University money but must do so if a specific request is received (above time-scales apply).Students can request a hard copy of information held, in which case a written statement or printout of results will have to be provided.However, formal University transcripts are not released until student debts are cleared. If a student owes the University money, the document on which results are released must read “This is not an official University transcript”.
  • As there is no sure way of confirming the identity of a caller, the risk of unauthorised disclosure of examination results over the telephone is high. Therefore examination results should never be released over the telephone. All students receive confirmation of their results within 48 hours by post and some departments have adopted the practice of emailing students’ results to them. Whatever method of disclosure is chosen, it is important to manage student expectations carefully.
  • Publication of results on the Internet represents a transfer outside of the EEA and could potentially be in breach of Principle 8 of the Act. Explicit consent should be sought from students where it is intended to publish results on the Internet (opt-out is inadequate in this case). One way in which the University publishes results on the Internet is via the degree ceremony Webcast. However, students give their explicit consent to this when they accept their invitation to degree ceremony.

Section 3: Additional Needs Students

  • Special care should be taken to ensure that information relating to students' additional needs is not disclosed without the students' informed consent. Therefore, it is necessary to tell the student concerned why there is a need to disclose information, who will have access to the information, and the likely consequences of giving or withholding consent. Once consent has been obtained in writing, it is the responsibility of the person passing on the information to ensure that this is done on the terms agreed with the student. Information relating to additional needs should be obtained and shared only on a "need to know" basis (e.g. invigilators).
  • If consent is not given, this should be respected and information should not be disclosed. You should inform students of the consequences of not giving their consent as this could seriously affect your ability to arrange appropriate examination procedures which they might be entitled to (such as extra time allowances).

Section 4: External Examiners' Details

  • The University holds the names and addresses of all appointed External Examiners. This information is personal data and should therefore be processed in accordance with the Data Protection Act. External Examiners should be adequately informed about the information held and for what purposes it will be used. For example, in the letter of appointment, External Examiners are informed that the University will use their personal data for payment of expenses and other communications and that their data may be shared, if necessary, with other departments of the University. Members of staff must not disclose names and addresses to third parties (ie outside the University) without the consent of External Examiners.
  • External Examiners are entitled to make Subject Access Requests and, in particular, will be able to see emails and memos relating to their appointment and views of staff about them. Therefore staff should exercise caution when recording comments (includes email) about External Examiners.
  • External Examiners must be informed that any comments/marks/opinions expressed about individual students (during any stage of the assessment process) may be disclosed to the student upon receipt of a Subject Access Request. External Examiners are advised upon appointment that opinions expressed in a professional capacity will be disclosed to students if requested.
  • External Examiner Reports are made available to academic staff in departments, the Associate Deans (Teaching), the Deans and Staff-Student Committees. Reports may also be used in Periodic or Annual Programme Reviews and may be published as part of internal or external quality procedures. External Examiners must be informed of this when they submit their reports. If the External Examiner requests that their name be removed from the report before it is publicised, the University must make all reasonable efforts to comply with the request.

For further guidance, please contact the University's Data Protection Officer.