Student Rights

Free legal help for students, parents & caregivers

Getting information from the school

Students getting information from the school

Can students get access to their own school records and other information?

Privacy Act 1993, ss 6 (principle 6), 29, 42(1)(e), 43(1), 44

Yes. If you’re a student, you’re entitled to access to your school records and other information that the school holds about you, unless the school has a right to withhold the information on one of the specific grounds in the Privacy Act or some other Act. The grounds on which schools can withhold information include, among others:

  • if you’re under 16 and the school thinks it wouldn’t be in your interests to give you the information
  • if the information was supplied by some other person and the school promised them that the information or that person’s identity, or both, would be kept confidential.

If the school refuses to give you the information, they have to tell you why.

Schools are allowed to give you a summary of the information. If there is a reason for withholding some of a document, the school can also provide you with some of the document only, after deleting the other parts.

If you think the school has withheld information from you wrongly, you should complain to the school first. If you’re not happy with the school’s response, you can then complain to the Privacy Commissioner.

If there are mistakes in my school records, can I get them corrected?

Privacy Act 1993, s 6 (principles 7, 8)

If you think any of the information about you is wrong, you can ask the school to correct it. Write out a statement correcting the mistakes, and give this to the school. The school doesn’t have to make the change if it disagrees that the information is wrong, but you can require the school to attach your statement to your file, so that both the school’s information and your statement will always be read together.

Schools have to take all reasonable steps to make sure all the information they hold about you is accurate, up-to-date, complete, relevant and not misleading.

Parents getting information from the school

How do parents and others go about getting information from the school?

If you want information about your child from their school, or if you’re a non-parent wanting information about a school (such as its policies), you should ask for this under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA). (Only the students themselves have a right to their school records under the Privacy Act.)

Under the Official Information Act, the starting position is that the school has to make the information available. However, schools can withhold information if there are good reasons for doing so – for example, to protect the privacy of a student who has said things in confidence to a school counsellor, or if giving information to parents could have a serious effect on a student. Schools should get a student’s consent before giving out information about the student to their parents.

When people other than parents ask for information, the school will also need to consider whether there’s a strong public interest in making the information available, one that outweighs the student’s interests. For example, if a reporter asks a school to explain a particular incident by providing information about particular students, the school would need to take care around giving out this information.

If a school refuses to give out information after an OIA request, the person who asked for the information can take the matter to the Ombudsmen.

When should parents be told about problems with a student?

Education Act 1989, s 77(b), and ss 60, 92 (“parent” definition)

The principal has to take all reasonable steps to tell a student’s parents if there are problems that are preventing or slowing a student’s progress through school, or that are harming the student’s relationships with teachers or other students. Both parents must be told, even if the student only lives with one parent. “Parent” here also includes guardians and immediate caregivers.

Note: Schools, including boards of trustees, are bound by the rules in the Privacy Act 1993 for dealing with information. Each school must also appoint a privacy officer, to deal with information requests and generally encourage the school to comply with the privacy laws.

Parents are unlikely to be contacted for minor incidents like talking in class or being late one time, but if the problem keeps occurring the parents should be told.

National Administration Guidelines (NAGs) 2, 2A

No. Schools have to report on a student’s progress and achievements to the student and to their parents. For students enrolled in years 1–8, schools must also provide a written report on the student’s progress and achievement in relation to the National Standards, at least twice a year.

Who does the school have to give school reports to?

Schools can provide reports to both parents, but usually they only provide them to the main caregiver.

Education Act 1989, s 77(b)

If a student asks the school not to give out information about them to one of their parents, the school will need to consider the obligation to inform parents of anything the principal thinks is preventing or slowing the student’s progress through the school or harming the student’s relationships with teachers or other students.

Can one parent stop the school giving information to the other parent?

No, not unless they have a court order.

Education Act 1989, s 77(b), and ss 60, 92 (“parent” definition)

If the principal believes there are problems that are slowing a student’s progress or harming their relationships at school, they must take reasonable steps to inform the student’s parents. It makes no difference if the parents are separated. Both parents are entitled to the same information about their child, unless it isn’t reasonable to expect the school to provide the information to both – for example, if one of the parents lives overseas and can’t be contacted. “Parent” here also includes guardians and immediate caregivers.

Can a student stop the school passing their records on to a particular parent?

A student can ask the school, but schools don’t always have to agree to this. There may be a written parenting agreement or a court order that deals with this, in which case the school would need to comply with the agreement or order. In other cases the school’s response would depend on the particular circumstances – including whether the parent is a legal guardian of the student, the student’s age and level of maturity, whether there’s a public interest in releasing the information, and the obligation to keep parents informed about any problems at school.

Do I have the right to see health information that the school holds about my child?

Health Act 1956, s 22F
Health Information Privacy Code 1994, rule 11

It depends. If the school is providing health services (for example, through a school nurse), parents generally have rights to their child’s health information, if the child is under 16.

Occasionally, if the school is satisfied that giving out the information isn’t in the student’s interest and is more likely to harm the student, the school doesn’t have to release the information – for example, if giving it out might be a breach of trust and could mean the student won’t be willing to access confidential counselling, sexual health services, or other health facilities. If your request for information is denied, you can complain to the Privacy Commissioner.

It’s best if schools encourage students to share the information themselves with their caregivers wherever possible.

Do I have the right to see information about my child held by the school counsellor?

No. School counsellors have no legal obligation to inform parents that a student is receiving counselling and no obligation to pass on anything the student tells the counsellor.

School counsellors have to comply with the Privacy Act and if they belong to the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, they also have to comply with the association’s Code of Professional Ethics. The Code makes it clear that all communication between a counsellor and client must be kept confidential, unless the counsellor believes there’s a clear and imminent danger to the client or someone else. Only in limited circumstances can school counsellors notify the police or Child, Youth and Family – for example, if a student is under 17 and the counsellor believes the student has been abused or is at risk of abuse.