Lawyers for Sir William Stubbs, former chair of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, last week asked for key government documents relating to his dismissal. Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector, has also asked the Department for Education and Skills to hand over all the information it holds on him under the Data Protection Act.
But it is not just the Great and Good who can demand this. Teachers and other staff are also entitled to know what information is held on them, by the school and local education authority. Since October 2001, all workers have had rights of access to personal files, whether manual or computerised.
An individual is entitled to be informed by the "data controller" (usually the school) of any information about them. The controller must give a description of the information, explain the purposes for which it is being kept, and specify who might have access to it.
Employees are also entitled to know whether information being kept by "automatic means" is likely to provide the basis for any decisions significantly affecting them.
Confidential references can still be written, but heads should bear in mind the information on which they may be based - such as appraisal documents - is likely to be covered by data protection provisions.
In any case, job applicants can ask the prospective employer for any reference written about them.
Schools and LEAs do not have to supply information unless a request has been made in writing and a fee paid (maximum pound;10).
Staff who believe information might cause unwarranted damage to their job prospects can request that it be removed from files. The school must then decide - within 21 days - whether there is justification for not doing this. Reasons must be given if the request is turned down.
If the school refuses to provide information an employee can seek a court order forcing them. And if the person suffers damage or distress they can claim compensation from the school or local authority.
Refer to: Data Protection Act 1998