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Data Protection, Confidentiality and Feedback

Data Protection and Confidentiality

It is critical that departments are aware of their responsibilities for ensuring personal data is kept confidential and is used only for the purpose for which it was collected, in line with the Data Protection Act (1998). As far as assessment is concerned, the Act has two key implications: the retention of student feedback documentation, and the publication of assessment results.

In respect of the former, it is important that assessment feedback proformas and reports state that the document exists for the purpose of providing assessment feedback to the student and for informing departmental academic decisions, and will be used for these purposes alone. It is then vital that the department does not breach the Data Protection Act by releasing the report to a third party or by using the report for another purpose.

Secondly, departments that post assessment results on departmental noticeboards, should note that the practice of publishing results including the student’s name may be open to student complaint under the terms of the Data Protection Act. It is preferable to either use the student number as a means by which students can identify themselves, or to make explicit to students that they have the choice to opt out of the noticeboard system and receive their results privately if they so wish. Any departmental policy should be stated in the Student Handbook and made clear to staff.

Feedback – where next?

Completing the cycle of learning, assessment and assessment feedback is important in the creation of an integrated student academic experience. Assessment feedback should identify further actions to be taken by the student to develop their knowledge and learning abilities, such as improving their revision skills, undertaking more in-depth reading on a particular topic, or developing laboratory practice. The feedback process provides an opportunity for the student to work towards a set of goals, aiming at improving their learning and thus performance in the next set of assessment. The next occasion for assessment feedback can then reflect, adjust or extend those previous goals.

    The following list gives the Guide’s key principles for staff to consider when providing assessment feedback to students:

    1. Consider how to provide feedback in a format that complements the method of assessment.
    2. Take account of learning outcomes when providing feedback.
    3. Ensure staff and students are clear about the department’s feedback processes.
    4. Ensure that feedback is provided in a timely fashion.
    5. Maintain appropriate links with the rest of the University and appropriate external organisations.
    6. Safeguard confidentiality and follow the terms of the Data Protection Act (1998).


    For further reading, the Learning and Development Centre recommends the following related texts:

    1. Higgins, Richard, Peter Hartley, and Alan Skelton (2002) The conscientious consumer: reconsidering the role of assessment feedback in student learning. Studies in Higher Education 27: 1, 53-64
    2. Higgins, Richard, Peter Hartley, and Alan Skelton (2001) Getting the message across: the problem of communicating assessment feedback. Teaching in Higher Education 6: 2, 269-74
    3. There are also some relevant articles in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, particularly on peer assessment.