'Serious concerns' over online learner records

21st January 2011 at 00:00
Database could jeopardise `sensitive' information, exam boards warn

Exam boards say they have "serious concerns" that FE learners' results could be mangled and "commercially sensitive" data made widely available when they go into a national database.

The personal learning record (PLR) is a lifelong record of a student's learning participation and achievements, which they can access and share with others.

It has been designed to allow easier transfer of credits on the qualifications and credit framework (QCF) and give greater flexibility to learners if they take a break from their studies, switch provider or change exam board.

But FE Focus understands awarding bodies are concerned about flaws in the online database, including some students being mistakenly given more than one unique learner number, invalid combinations of units being allowed and students' grades being included before appeals have taken place.

Jill Lanning, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB), said its members are worried they have "no control" once their data is added to the database, but would still be held responsible for any errors which occur.

She added that exam boards were "nervous" that their confidential data could be "shared with all and sundry".

The Learning Records Service, which manages the PLR, is administered by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA). The system is currently being used for the QCF by several bodies, and exam boards are able to sign up on a voluntary basis.

"They are expecting awarding bodies to take their records, which are fundamental to the way they work, and drop them into a database controlled by someone else," Ms Lanning said.

"How do we know it's not going to be shared with all and sundry in the future? It is commercially sensitive, if you add all the bits up.

"IT systems we have had to engage with in the past have not been known for their complete accuracy, and now there's another IT system that has got another set of data. We are bound to be nervous."

She said members of the FAB, which represents around 120 awarding bodies, have "expressed quite serious concerns about the way the PLR is intended to operate".

"If (the data) is not accurate," she said, "who gets sued if an employer uses information which is incorrect? At the moment it comes back to the awarding body, even if it was accurate when it went in."

A report published in August 2010 by the Higher Education Statistics Agency found that confusion over students incorrectly using their term- time rather than permanent address would also cause "a problem" with inaccuracies in the PLR.

An SFA spokeswoman said the agency was "not aware of any mistakes or glitches".

"Awarding bodies are not liable for any errors that occur to their data within the PLR database and we have a legal responsibility to ensure the data held is accurately maintained," she added.

The SFA is looking to extend the PLR's use but said it had no plans to make it compulsory.

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