Internal, open access

Confidentiality

The issue of confidentiality with regard to students' personal information is complex, with various  Files 2pieces of legislation imposing sometimes conflicting requirements.  Tutors are therefore advised to proceed with caution and consult with experienced colleagues if they are unsure of how best to respond to a particular situation.

Tutees should be informed about what happens to routine information such as personal details (addresses, next of kin etc.), module choices, coursework marks. 

  • What do you as Tutor do with it?
  • What files do you keep?
  • What do you write down and what do you keep in your head?
  • How far does the information go, to whom and under what conditions?

Under the terms of the Data Protection Act, students have the right to request access to the majority of information held about them. Difficulties are less likely to arise if students already know about or ideally have seen, as much of this information as possible.

Sensitive information

Sensitive personal information (for example, disability, medical conditions, personal problems) obviously requires a higher level of confidentiality and tutees should be able to assume that Tutors will respect their wishes unless there is a requirement to disclose. However, Tutors should be clear that they cannot guarantee absolute confidentiality: it is very important that Tutors do not promise what they are not able to or not prepared to, deliver.

Disclosure

Depending on the nature of the disclosure, Tutors may wish to involve others. It can be difficult to help a student without seeking advice or action from someone else in the University who is better placed to help. It is usually best to come to an agreement with the tutee about to whom the information may be passed. Even if a tutee is initially reluctant, Tutors can often negotiate permission to disclose through making the tutee aware of the short- and long-term costs and benefits of such disclosure.  In cases where such agreement has been difficult to reach, it is a wise precaution to confirm it in writing to the tutee. If the disclosure concerns a disability, a standardised form available from the Disability Office must be completed.

There will however be a few cases where despite the Tutor's efforts the student refuses to agree to further disclosure. Tutors have a duty of reasonable care to their tutees and this must be balanced against the student's right to keep information confidential. Tutors are advised to consult with senior colleagues before proceeding in such cases and if appropriate to seek advice from the Director of Student, Learning and Teaching Services on possible legal implications. If the decision is reached that further disclosure is essential, it should be kept to the minimum necessary information. If it is decided to maintain confidentiality, it is again helpful to confirm this in writing to the tutee (with a sealed copy, marked "only to be opened by the student and (your name)", on their file) and set out clearly the advice that has been given as to the benefits of further disclosure.

There are certain circumstances in which Tutors should disclose information. These include:

  • If there is a significant and  immediate risk to the health and safety of the student or of others, for example: 
  • If a student may harm or kill themselves or someone else (Tutors have a legal duty to disclose information where the abused is a child)
  • If a student has disclosed a medical condition, disability or problem such as alcohol abuse which affects their ability to participate safely in University activities
  • If a student breaks into the email of another, hacks, infects systems with a virus or engages in similar behaviour harmful to University community members. A student should be permitted the opportunity to report themselves (if willing) rather than to be reported
  • If questioned by the police regarding a criminal offence alleged against the student.

In summary, Tutors should be aware of the need to balance the right to confidentiality against other obligations and should not hesitate to reserve judgement and consult others about different cases.

Things to do now

If in doubt, consult your Senior Tutor or Head of School.

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