THE headteacher at Penryn College has apologised “unreservedly” after students personal details were accidentally sent out to other pupils in the school.

The school realised its error almost immediately and tried to recall the emails but the technical process took almost 30 minutes, during which time a small number of pupils opened the attached document.

The document, which included data about children's special educational needs and their families' financial status was originally emailed to more than 1,000 students due to “human error”.

Headteacher Marie Hunter said the school apologised “unreservedly” for the error.

She told the Packet: “The college has written apologising to all parents and students informing them that information will not be circulated in this way again at the college.

“The college takes its responsibilities for protection of data extremely seriously and apologises unreservedly for this error.

"It asks that if you have received a copy of this information, please delete it immediately as you will be in breach of data protection if you knowingly share it with another person.”

She added that the incident had been reported to the Data Protection Agency and said: “It was a human error and the person concerned is understandably very upset about it.”

However, the parent of one pupil named on the list said: “I am dismayed and horrified that this should have happened.

“It is a clear breach of everything that one would expect from a school in relation to confidentiality.”

She added that she hoped the authorities would take a “very serious view” of the issue.

Another parent, who saw the email after it was sent to his daughter, said: “My daughter received this by mistake in her college email account, and also found out all her friends had the same email.”

Mrs Hunter said all students were asked to delete the email without opening it.

“We now know a student subsequently forwarded the email from her school account. We are investigating how this could have happened. A parent informed the college that he had seen the email during the Easter break.

“Unfortunately, students' eligibility for pupil premium and free school meals or [those who] have special education needs was also identified on the email by a letter of the alphabet.

“This is because the Department for Education asks all schools to track the achievement and progress of these groups of students.”

One email was sent by the administrator to all staff on April 2, two days before the end of term, just before 11.30am. Four minutes later another was sent, with the report attached and the message “sorry forgot to add them - they are now enclosed”, but to all students.

The school said that although the email was immediately recalled, the technical process takes 30 minutes, and during this time a small number of students using computers would have been able to open the email and forward it, which meant that these copies could still have been in circulation.

They also sent an email to tutors explaining the mistake, and they in turn spoke to the children about the confidential nature of the message, and asked them to delete it from their inbox.

Cornwall Councillor Andrew Wallis, the cabinet member for children, schools and families, said: “It's very disappointing that this email was sent with potentially sensitive information.

“The school is an academy, so responsible for its own data management, but hopefully they will learn from this and put more robust steps in place to make sure this doesn't happen again.”

When asked whether sharing such information among staff members was common practice, Mrs Hunter said that she could not comment on other schools, but that “tracking behaviour and achievement is part and parcel of school life.”

She added that behaviour at the school, recently commended by the Minister of State for Schools as one of the 100 most improved for GCSE results, was “great with the majority of kids.”

The behaviour and achievement report records over 300 behavioural incidents which took place at the college between March 24 and 28, ranging in severity from forgotten homework or school equipment to any incidents.

It also contains columns with information about children's special educational needs, together with details of whether they are eligible for free school meals and for the pupil premium (additional funding to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils) - two things that can both be considered as indicative of the economic status of a pupil and their family.