Publication in DFC Book Collection Education Data Futures

How do we design rights respecting Education Tech data for the future? 


Dr Jun Zhao is proud to contribute to the peer-reviewed essay collection led by the Digital Future Commissions and 5Rights Foundation.


Reports have shown that the amount and range of education data being routinely collected in UK state schools have grown exponentially in the last few years (Persson, 2020). These data can be collected and processed at schools for a variety of purposes. Sometimes, schools are collecting these data under their obligation to the Department for Education (DfE); other times, they need to process children’s data as part of teaching, assessment, administrative and safeguarding (DFC, 2021b). Finally, schools are increasingly contracting external EdTech companies to process children’s data to enhance their learning and education opportunities.


While schools are expected to be the primary duty bearers of children’s best interests, their duties are compounded by the complexity of legislation in the education sector and the extreme challenge of carrying out compliance validation. The diverse range of education data being collected at UK state schools for different purposes is subject to a variety of regulatory frameworks developed for different purposes and at different times, including the Data Protection Act 2018 that sets up the UK-specific data protection framework and sits alongside and supplements the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010, which ensure the protection of children’s rights, as well as the Digital Economy Act 2017, for the protection of public sector data.


As a result, UK schools are equipped with no specific legislation concerning EdTech or education data, and there is no overarching education data governance framework in the UK (DFC, 2021b, p. 22). Thus, this essay discusses a technical alternative to learning data management and governance for schools by proposing a new data governance model in UK state schools, so that schools and families can regain control of education data and be better supported to ensure sufficient data stewardship.

A wave of new decentralised paradigms for data sharing and ownership is being explored to expand individual data subjects’ ability to access data and establish data autonomy. A data trust provides a promising response to schools’ need for an independent and trustworthy body of experts, who can make critical decisions about who has access to data and under what conditions. A case study was used to demonstrate what a data trust model may provide. However, creating a new data governance structure is not without challenges. The essay concludes by discussing open social, legal and technological challenges to be considered, calling for a pilot model of data trusts in the educational technology (EdTech) sector.


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