How is the DfE getting teachers’ private email addresses? Could the Department be in breach of the Data Protection Act?

Janet Downs's picture
Three Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, dated 24 and 26 November, have been lodged with the Department for Education (DfE) via What Do They They ask the DfE, and Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, in particular, how the DfE discovered teachers’ private email addresses. The teachers had received emails from the DfE despite having never knowingly given their email addresses to the Department. Two of the teachers said they had been contacted about teachers’ pensions.

This raises questions about the Data Protection Act and about teachers’ privacy. Could the DfE, or whoever gave the information to the DfE, be in breach of the law?

At the time of writing the DfE had not acknowledged these FoI requests. The requests, and any subsequent replies by the DfE, can be found on What Do They

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Rosemary Mann's picture
Sun, 04/12/2011 - 12:35

This happened to my partner ie he received an email directly from the DfE effectively asking him not to strike however it was couched in more friendly terms. He cannot recall giving to anyone but thought he may have done so when he applied for teacher training and registration 5 years ago, but still , we both feel it was inappropriate to receive this, almost eerily so. Big brother Gove is watching us after all then.

Rosemary Mann's picture
Sun, 04/12/2011 - 20:02

24 November 2011

This email is an official communication from the Department for Education to teachers.

Please do not reply to this message by email as this mailbox is not monitored.

Letter to teachers from the Minister of State for Schools
I am writing as the Minister of State for Schools to let you know about the changes that the Government is proposing to the Teachers' Pension Scheme, which are currently being discussed with teacher unions and employer representatives.

Teachers have told us that they want clear and accurate information about the Government's proposals. The purpose of this letter is to let you have the facts as they stand at the moment and to help you understand what the changes might mean for you.

What will stay the same?

You will continue to receive a guaranteed income in your retirement.
You will keep the pension and lump sum you have already earned (i.e. accrued rights) and this will remain linked to your final salary on retirement.
Regardless of any changes to teachers' Normal Pension Age or the State Pension Age, you will retain options to retire at any age between 55 and 75.
Those within 10 years of Normal Pension Age on 1 April 2012 will see no change to the age at which they can retire, and no change in the amount of pension they receive when they retire.
What is proposed to change?

A move from a final salary pension to a career average pension scheme.
A phased increase to teachers' Normal Pension Age in line with changes to the State Pension Age.
A rebalancing of employee and employer contributions to provide a fairer distribution between members and other taxpayers.
When will this happen?

The intention is for a phased increase to employee contributions from 2012. The other reforms are proposed for 2015.

To find out more:

More information can be found in an online leaflet or you can find detailed explanation, questions and answers at the Department's website.

To find out how the changes might affect you personally, there is now an online calculator which provides an estimate of your pension entitlement under the proposed reforms to the Teachers' Pension Scheme. This is available at

We will continue to update the profession via the Department for Education website. The Department is working closely with teacher unions to agree the best possible deal for teachers. Nothing will be final until negotiations conclude.

It is a personal priority for both the Secretary of State for Education and me that the Teachers' Pension Scheme continues to provide a high-quality and defined benefit, index-linked pension for the teaching profession.

Nick Gibb MP
Minister of State for Schools

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/12/2011 - 08:25

Rosalyn - thanks for a copy of the email from Nick Gibb to teachers. I spoke to many teachers last week during the strike - some had received emails and some hadn't. This suggests that the DfE could only contact those for whom they had email addresses (obviously). The question remains - where did the DfE obtain these email addresses? Many of those who received emails did not recall ever giving their email addresses to the DfE and some of these email addresses were private and not used for school purposes. It will be interesting to read the responses to the Freedom of Information requests. The DfE has not even acknowledged the three FoI requests, two of which were dated 26 November 2011. The DfE has until 28 December 2011 to submit a full response by law.

Peter's picture
Wed, 07/12/2011 - 09:24

My wife, who is a 60+ teacher still working full time, had one of these emails; somewhat to her surprise. She thinks it arrived because the TPS has her email address because of pension matters.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/12/2011 - 15:17

Update: the FoI responses reveal that the DfE used email addresses from the Teachers’ Pensions Scheme database which was augmented by email data held by the General Teaching Council for England. The DfE said:

"The transfer of data in this way is allowed under s14 of the Teaching and
Higher Education Act 1998. This correspondence has come from Ministers
given the level of current interest. In future direct communications about
the detail of individual pensions will be sent from Teachers’ Pensions."

However, a comment underneath asks the DfE to confirm that "the TPS is administered by the Treasury not the DfE." If so, would the transfer of information still be allowed under the Act quoted above?

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