Exam Results and Subject Access Requests

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If you are a secondary school/academy or trust you are probably anticipating more subject access requests from students this year asking to see information about how their grades have been decided. 

So, it may be helpful to know that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has confirmed that the exam script exemption still applies this year.

What does this mean?


If you receive a request from a student before the official results are announced, the exemption allows for longer response times. 

The timeframe for responding to these requests is either:

  • within five months of receiving the request or
  • within 40 days of announcing the exam results; whichever date is earliest.

Requests made after the results are announced need to be dealt with as a normal subject access request (i.e. within one month of receipt of the request).  However, the ICO understands there may be delays during the pandemic.

Students’ answers

The exam script exemption applies to information that has been recorded by the students themselves during an exam or assessment. Therefore, students do not have a right to get copies of their answers from mock exams or assignments used to assess their performance.

Information not exempt

The exam script exemption does not exempt schools from providing:

  • teacher assessments 
  • rank order information (see note below about small cohorts)
  • evidence used to make grading decisions such as:
    •  previous results from mock exams/assignments/assessments 
    • records of performance or
    • an exchange of emails discussing a student’s provisional grade or teacher assessment.

Small cohorts

You may be concerned about small cohorts, especially with 2 or 3 students, where the disclosure of a student’s rank order could reveal the rank order of other students.  

In this situation schools will need to decide (on a case by case basis):

  • whether it is reasonable to disclose the information rather than withhold it?
  • Could the consent of the other students be obtained or is it considered reasonable to provide the information without consent?   
  • Is it fair to treat students in small cohorts differently, by not disclosing their rank order, when that information would be available to students in larger cohorts?

Whatever decision is taken, it is important to keep a record, including the reasoning behind it.

Something to consider?

The ICO suggests that schools/academies/trusts may choose to proactively provide students with their centre assessment grade and/or rank order information, regardless of whether they have received any subject access request(s). This would be once the results are issued, and subject to data protection and any other relevant legal considerations, of course.

If you do decide to do this, it is important to be transparent about it.  Advance notification should be provided wherever possible.  It would also be important to consider whether any additional information or supporting guidance can be provided that helps explain the context around how final results have been calculated.

The ICO’s update can be found here.

I can help

One of the areas where I commonly provide advice to schools is handling subject access requests.

If you would like practical advice and support on any aspect of dealing with a subject access request, please do get in touch. My contact details are at the bottom of the page or there is a contact form here.