There is a national opt out of data sharing by the Learner Records Service  from Department for Education. The background and opt out are summarised here.

What is in my Record?

From full name and address, contact details, to gender and disability, health problems and all about your study, the further identifiers and personal data involved in your individualised, or personal learner record, are listed on pages 4-11 of the User Guide.

The heart of the record is a Unique Learner Number (ULN). In 2014, this number became mandatory within maintained schools for England, Wales and Northern Ireland for pupils aged 14+. This means that at minimum, anyone state educated today aged 14 to 18, as well as anyone in adult further education, is almost certain to have an individualised personal learner record.

The academic and vocational data in the ILR / PLR (individualised, or personal learner record) may go back to 2009, but does not cover higher education.

Personal information stored in the Personal Learning Record are retained (and therefore may be processed by the EFSA and DfE to third parties) for 66 years. These information may be being shared with third parties without your knowledge.

Action

  • Contact the LRS Service Desk on 0345 602 2589. If necessary, refer to their handout.
  • Ask to opt out of sharing your participation and achievement data. You will be required to provide some personal details to confirm your identify, which may include your Unique Learner Number (ULN), if known. 
  • Confirm what effect this has, for example whether the statement in the DfE handout is correct: Note: if you do opt-out, Awarding Organisations may not be able be see who you are and so may not be able to award you a certificate. Make sure it is clear what that may mean for you, at the stage of life you are at. (We believe that the DfE may need to change this part of the process.)
  • If you wish, contact us to discuss your experience afterwards, We can track it as an anonymous / generalised case study and it may help us make things better for everyone.

Why it matters

Personal data are given away to third parties by the Department for Education. While the distribution process was tightened up in 2018, these records are still accessed by and given away to third parties.

We are not suggesting there is anything wrong in of itself with the use of the ILR. Users of ILR data include companies under contract to the DfE such as Kantar Public, Deloitts [sic], Learning & Work Institute (L&W), ICF, Advanced Computer Software Group, the Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER), as well as institutions such as Mid Kent College/FE Associates, and Other Government Departments. But you cannot control why the data are shared, or which organisations receive which of your data, some of which is sensitve data, such as health problems. The only choice you have is to opt out of the sharing of he record completely.

Since the opt out is offered, we think you should know about it.

We are concerned that the use of these data increasingly also includes linking with other datasets, and its onward use by others is opaque. For example, with the Office for Students which “may link the data provided by ESFA to other data sources, including (but not limited to) data from the Student Loans Company, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, and the National Pupil Database detailed under seperate [sic] agreements,” and it is not clear whethere these are for functional, or research purposes and there is no way to know.

National Insurance Number is collected for example, “to match data with Department for Work and Pensions data to assess the economic impact of training programmes on learners, particularly but not exclusively those who are unemployed.”

We are also concerned that DfE may be assuming not opting out, is “explicit consent” which could be considered a basis for using the data for a very wide range of purposes.

Background to the Record and its Use by Third Parties

If aged 14 to 19, your school, college or learning provider can give you your ULN reference. Since March 2013, Awarding Organisations have started to print individuals ULN references on their certificates. You should still be able to opt out of national uses of the ILR/PLR without knowing your unique learner number.

“The PLR is a free, secure, online, verified record of what individuals have studied and achieved since age 14. It allows individuals access to their current achievements and exam results. Learners can access their achievements online now through the National Careers Service website.

Individuals can share achievement records with schools, colleges, further education, training providers, universities, employers or careers advisors – as long as the individual does not opt out.Schools, colleges, higher education institutions, careers services, employers and training providers can all use the PLR to inform furthering education, training and employment.” [source: gov.uk]

The  privacy notice is pretty terrible. 

Data are given out to third parties not clearly explained in the privacy notice. The distribution register is here, listed among External Data Shares, for example ‘DfE external data shares: October 2018‘ [MS Excel Spreadsheet, 93.8KB].

Where these data are involved is listed as “Learner Records Service (LRS) Individualised Learner Record (ILR)”
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dfe-external-data-shares
(Filename: External Data Shares, Note multiple tabs within file)

Can I find out if my own data have been given away? Subject Access Request.

You have the right to ask the DfE if *your* data were sent to which company. This is Subject Access Request. But the DfE currently has no suitable system to manage this at scale. That does not reduce your Right to Know. Read more to find out how you can make a request.