Personal data protection is a major concern when developing an early warning system. Such systems need to comply with legal frameworks for data protection and make sure that:
- Data gathered is used for a legitimate purpose: to provide appropriate support to learners at risk of early leaving.
- Data is only accessed by professionals who have an immediate role in providing this support. Only practitioners working with a certain student should have access to his/her data. Also, there can be different levels of access. More sensitive data (e.g. on health, well-being) should only be accessible to a very restricted group of practitioners (e.g. head teacher and counsellor).
- Personal data is stored for as long as it serves its purpose, that is, to provide support to a particular learner.
An adequate follow-up of learners at risk of early leaving may require sharing data with other relevant services (e.g. social services, health services, youth services, or other). Before exchanging any data, VET providers need to establish if this is allowed by data protection legislation. Usually, data sharing will require arrangements to be put in place, including:
- Asking students for permission in registration forms to use the data, including by third parties, and to use personal codes/identifiers to link young people’s records in different systems. Before giving their consent, students need to receive clear information on how data might be shared and used by other entities.
- Signing protocols of collaboration to enable databases to be shared and used by various organisations. The development of protocols for data sharing can be a technically complex and lengthy process. It requires political leadership to bring all actors on board, and close collaboration between policy officers and technical staff from statistical and IT backgrounds.
Data should only be used by organisations providing support to young people, or by researchers and evaluators in charge of assessing if the support provided is beneficial. Part of the data can be transmitted to national or regional level authorities to develop indicators at that level (for instance, this is often done with data on absenteeism), or be used in research. For these purposes, data needs to be anonymised. Specific ethical guidelines in using the data should be followed by all actors involved.
In many countries, it is not possible to share data on learners or contact young people. In these cases, the use of anonymised data for research on the factors related to early leaving, can enable the design of more targeted measures.