New ASA Data Retention Schedule for Schools: Acknowledgement of Royal Commission Recommendations


As we mentioned in our previous article, knowing what records to keep, how to maintain them, and safe methods for their disposal, is a tricky business for schools to master. However, the Australian Society of Archivists’ (ASA) new RRDS released in April 2018 provides useful guidance in easily recognisable categories for records management and disposal. Schools may elect to use the RRDS to help them manage their records.

Structure of the RRDS

The RRDS was revised from the 2007 first edition to take account of changes in legislation, findings and recommendations from government inquiries into institutions with a duty of care for children, revised and new industry standards and changed community expectations. The RRDS reflects minimum standards which can be applied nationwide, using comparative data from government school retention and disposal instruments across Australia. The RRDS is not publicly available and must be purchased from the ASA. It is a guide for schools only.

The RRDS covers all levels of education from pre-school to secondary education including special education and International Baccalaureate (IB) Programs, and covers records in any format, including digital records or objects which are part of a school’s history. The RRDS is still structured in ten separate sections (similar to the 2007 version) however each section has been simplified and updated. The sections are:
  1. Governance
  2. Administration
  3. Student Services
  4. Student Management
  5. Teaching and Learning
  6. Communications and Community Relations
  7. School-Related Groups
  8. Spiritual Programs
  9. Objects
  10. Ephemera (transitory items created in routine course of staff work)

Each section is then broken down further and a ‘Disposal Action’ is associated with each type of record.

Those familiar with the 2007 RRDS will notice that many categories remain the same however, the emphasis has been placed on student welfare with student services and student management being moved to the front of the document and support groups and alumni collapsed into the chapter on school-related groups.

The RRDS also focuses on digitised records, either created digitally, scanned through demand or a restrospective back-scanning project. The RRDS specifies that these records (if scanned from hardcopy), must be a full and accurate copy of the source record, and before any destruction, the school should carry out a full risk assessment on the risks the school incurs in converting or digitising the records. The following is a summary of the different RRDS sections.

School Governance and Administration

In Chapter 1: Governance, subcategories for record keeping have been simplified with similar obligations grouped together by type of risk rather than source of document for the purposes of record keeping. As an example, the previous RRDS section on the Principal has been subsumed into other governance categories like legal services, reporting and compliance monitoring, with a focus on the impact of the record and its risk to the school rather than the person who was the creator.

Maintenance, Equipment and Hazardous Materials

Chapter 2: Administration has been expanded significantly, opening up new subcategories for records relating to hazardous materials, equipment acquisition, maintenance and disposal and information technology systems acquisition, implementation and management.

Schools are recommended to keep a register summary of hazardous materials including identification of asbestos, chemicals and pesticides on school grounds. This is to reflect the changes in the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) system, as detailed in our previous article. Schools are also recommended to keep acquisition, maintenance and disposal records for all equipment for seven years after the action has been completed. Finally, the new focus on information technology systems reflects the growing awareness in schools of the importance of cyber security and information technology management and records keeping practices focused on management and implementation of these systems.

Access to Records and Privacy

In recognition of the commencement of the Notifiable Data Breaches (NDB) Scheme (mentioned in our previous article), new record keeping categories have been added to the RRDS to reflect Privacy Act obligations, management of data breaches and management of complaints which do not result in a privacy breach being discovered. The new time limit on keeping records of privacy breaches – fifteen years – also reflects the seriousness of the new NDB Scheme.

Student Management and Child Protection

Child Protection is a key focus in the new RRDS with recommended changes in keeping with:

  • Recommendations, requirements of, and findings from the Royal Commission
  • Records Retention and Disposal Schedules and other policies issued under the public records legislation of various jurisdictions, specifying indefinite, long-term, or permanent retention of student information
  • Recommendation 21 of the Bringing Them Home report relating to Indigenous or other children removed from their family
  • Recommendations from a range of peak organisations to the Royal Commission regarding records of care leavers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
  • Findings of other inquiries relating to the care and welfare of children
  • Limitation periods for civil actions concerning child sexual abuse being abolished by the jurisdictions, and recommended for all jurisdictions by the Royal Commission
  • Access to school records by indigenous people, or people who have lived in out of home care as part of their search for their origins, culture, identity and history, and which may be done by successive generations.

It has been mandated that within the chapters on student management and student services, Master Records (defined in 4.1 as “a summary of information for individual students covering a range of student management activities”) should be created including summary information for students covering all activities relating to their education, care and welfare. In response to the Royal Commission recommendations in Volume 8: Record keeping and Information Sharing, these Master Records are intended to serve as a permanent record of a student’s time at the school, with summary information to be retained:

  • permanently for Indigenous students
  • permanently for students who have lived in out-of-home care, and
  • for 75 years from the date of birth for all other students.

Supporting records (documents that serve as evidence of an entry in the Master Record summary) can then be destroyed 25 years after the date of birth of the student. This was specifically introduced by the RRDS to take account of the extended timeframe in which child sexual abuse claims are generally brought.

What should schools do now?

The RRDS offers an optional, general framework for managing records, once a school’s legal obligations have been considered. With the revised focus on recommendations arising from several reports on student welfare, schools can elect to take account of this guidance while continuing to manage the collection, storage and disposal of records in accordance with their relevant legal requirements.

About the Author

Lauren Osbich is a Legal Research Consultant and School Governance reporter. She can be contacted here.

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