Student image consent in schools - Education Matters Magazine
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Image consent: How schools can get it right

Colin Anson pixevety image consent child protection

Colin Anson, CEO and co-founder of child image protection and photo storage solution, pixevety, discusses the importance of image consent when it comes to schools sharing student photos.

At no point in history have photos of our children been more readily shared with the outside world. Social media has made sharing these photos normal, even expected, and schools often upload snaps without a second thought.

But in our oversharing age of social media and smartphones, we must realise that not all children can, or should, have their photo shared. Although a quick Facebook post might seem innocent, for some children, having their image shared publicly can be risky, if not downright dangerous. For this reason, collecting and managing photographic consent for the children in our care is essential.

This isn’t just my opinion, it’s the law. Images of a person are considered personal information in the context of Australian privacy law, at the national and state/territory levels. In order to protect both themselves and their children, childcare centres and independent schools must balance  ‘duty of care’ and the administrative need to take, store and share images of kids in their care with commercial or marketing opportunities.

The solution is clear: in every situation where photographs of children are being taken and shared, consent must always be obtained. While that might sound like a simple task, it’s actually fraught with obstacles to overcome. So how can we, as educators, get the tricky issue of image consent right?

The wrong kind of consent

In many cases, schools believe they have a good understanding of consent, but are actually going about it the wrong way. For example, schools should never ask parents to sign a consent form that lasts forever. Consent must always have a use-by date, because a lot can change in a short space of time. Try to obtain fresh consent forms regularly – once a year should be the bare minimum.

In a similar vein, avoid ‘bundling’ consent into one form. Parents are not truly consenting If they’re being asked to do it all at once or tick one box. Instead, schools must provide the opportunity for parents to have greater choice and control over what the school can do with their child’s images. Family needs and individual circumstances are constantly shifting, and a situation that was once okay may no longer be. Unless schools can consistently renew parents’ consent to manage specific situations, they risk exposing children to serious harm.

Whatever you do, avoid any approach to consent that could be considered coercive. If you decide to ban children from enrolling or entering an event unless their parents have signed an ‘all-in’ consent form, then you’re not collecting true consent. In cases like these, parents might feel pressured to sign the form, even if they have legitimate and serious reasons for not allowing their child to be photographed. Instead, make it clear that deciding not to give consent will have no bearing on their child’s experience.

Beyond consent forms

Managing consent is just one critical component an organisation must undertake to meet their legal requirements when it comes to privacy law (i.e. authorising data flows, or enabling data subject rights as part of routine data governance). And just because there is new technology available that can help support organisations in improving their privacy compliance, doesn’t mean you throw out the bath with the bathwater. When using new technological tools to support compliance, schools must still keep hold of traditional values and notions of accountability and governance to continue to reduce risks.

While the process of consent collection can be riddled with mistakes if you don’t know what you’re doing, a lot of the hard work actually goes in after those forms are handed back. In order to avoid the wrong photo slipping through the net, ensure that there are solid processes in place and that every member of staff is on board.

Ensure all staff members can diligently manage and identify all students in photos before they go anywhere, especially if they’re being uploaded to sites like Facebook. It’s shocking how many people blindly post photos to promote a recent event with no real consent process in place. Not every member of staff will recognise every child, so create a process that means you can get it right 100 per cent of the time.

Make sure that your school’s Privacy Policy, collection notice and media use policy are available for anyone to read, and that their contents are communicated to parents clearly. Check that the most up-to-date versions of your policies are live on your website (and I do not mean your website privacy policy here which many schools can get confused with) and that everyone knows how to access them.

Finally, try to embed a culture of privacy across the entire centre or school, so that everyone from board level to the classroom knows exactly what they should be doing. Education is key. If staff, parents and children are all clued up on privacy, then the chances of things going wrong are drastically reduced. Image consent isn’t a ‘nice to have’, it’s a fundamental requirement to protect the children in your care – so take it seriously.