Should You Mark In Public?

Would you take your marking into a cafe?

Oh dear.

I recently came across a Tweet with a teacher telling the world that she takes her marking down to a cafe every Sunday morning.

My heart sank. It shows the work of a pupil called Maria and we can read her work and the teacher comments. Hello? What about safeguarding pupil records and information?

If you take marking into a different ecosystem, one that isn’t secure, then you leave yourself wide open.

It’s not so much that it is Sunday morning (health and wellbeing and all that) but the fact this is so out of order from a data protection point of view. Taking pupil data out of a secure system means you put personal information at risk especially in a cafe environment.

Sitting at the next table or standing in the queue is…..precisely……you don’t know. Could it be a parent? a governor? a clumsy waiter or waitress? a stranger with their phone ready to take a picture? the pupil herself….etc.

In most confidentiality policies you will see something along the lines of: “Parents should not have access to any other child’s books, teacher comments, reports and progress grades at any time.

Clearly, a parent in a cafe would be able to have access (even if it was just a glance) and certainly if you post it on social media.

Teachers should not be marking work in a public environment for others to see. The content of what you are marking might be harmless enough or it might contain something personal. Can you guarantee the security of the books/papers/worksheets? What happens if they are photographed or stolen? What happens if you leave something behind by mistake?

“Sorry Gemma, but I just nipped up to the counter to get myself a skinny latte and when I returned to my table your book had disappeared….along with all my highlighters!”

Teachers beware….data protection is there for a reason – to protect data and pupil data is something you don’t take into the goldfish bowl of a busy cafe.

We don’t see doctors or a nurses take patient notes into a cafe to do some admin and photograph themselves doing it.

The General Medical Council advice for health care workers is clear:

118 Many improper disclosures of patient information are unintentional. Conversations in reception areas, at a patient’s bedside and in public places may be overheard. Notes and records may be seen by other patients, unauthorised staff, or the public if they are not managed securely.

121 You should not share personal information about patients where you can be overheard, for example in a public place or in an internet chat forum. 

What does your school policy say?

Data Protection law is designed to protect the privacy of individuals and their personal information.

Personal information is anything relating to a person that can be used to identify them. This includes both manual paper records and digital records.

In a school, examples of personal information include:

  • Names of staff and pupils.
  • Dates of birth.
  • Addresses.
  • National insurance numbers.
  • School marks.
  • Medical information.
  • Exam results.
  • SEN assessments and data.
  • Staff development reviews.

Clearly this is a professional development issue and not a reflection of the teacher concerned as a teacher and her competency etc.

This Tweet reminds me of the outrage when examiners were photographed marking on trains (and leaving unattended papers whilst going to the loo!). Let’s remind ourselves of some sensible advice,

“All examiners are required to uphold the fundamental principles regarding the marking process which include the safeguarding of candidate confidentiality.”

And that goes for all teachers too. Marking in public is a basic dereliction of data protection duty.

Teachers matter but what matters is pupil confidentiality. It also matters that you don’t lose your reputation by being naive. Do what works for you by all means but not at the expense of pupil confidentiality and always check your school policy.

Everyone has a responsibility in ensuring data is protected. Staff who handle personal data need to prevent it from coming into possession of anyone who hasn’t been given permission to view or process it.


The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

What constitutes personal data?

Any information related to a natural person or ‘Data Subject’, that can be used to directly or indirectly identify the person. It can be anything from a name, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, or a computer IP address.

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