If you’re a Data Protection and/or Freedom of Information Practitioner you may be thinking about obtaining one or both of the BCS qualifications (previously known as ISEB) offered by Act Now Training. This was my situation just a couple of years ago. Back in January 2013 I successfully sat the Data Protection examination.
Fast forward 18 months, and not only have I now sat the FOI equivalent, but I’m also tutoring both courses. That’s a quick turnaround, which inevitably affects the way I approach the running of the course, as we’ll see.
There were a few reasons I had put off doing the BCS qualifications for so long, despite having worked as an FOI and Data Protection Officer for much of the last decade. The main one was that I already had a qualification, having completed Northumbria University’s excellent LLM distance learning programme in 2008. It was hard work and in all honesty, I was reluctant to commit to another course without good reason.
But over time, those reasons started to stack up. Job advertisements increasingly cited requirements for BCS qualifications. The LLM had been more academic in its approach, and I wanted a more practical refresher. As my profile as a blogger and commentator on information rights grew, I was concerned that people might question my expertise if I didn’t hold a qualification that was so widely recognised in the industry. And I knew that if I was going to take the leap as a full-time trainer, I would need to have both qualifications to be able to tutor them.
The latter in particular may not be relevant to you. But if you want a thorough grounding in these subjects, and a formal qualification, at a fraction of the cost of most academic courses, then a BCS programme is for you. And when I say, thorough, I mean it. Despite having completed an LLM and having years of experience in both subjects, I really did learn a lot from both programmes. In our jobs we tend to become familiar with certain aspects that are relevant to our specific organisation. So there are whole parts of the DPA and FOIA that we never have to know about. But that might change if you want another job, or the circumstances of your employer or your responsibilities change. Equally, it’s very easy to assume that you know what you should be doing, and to merrily carry on doing it that way for years in blissful ignorance…until the day you get found out. Or you take the BCS programme and the scales fall from your eyes (as they did from mine on at least one occasion).
As you would expect from such a respected qualification, it is no walkover. The exams are three hours long, and involve multiple-choice questions, but also three or four essays. In all honesty, when I did the exams, I failed to finish all the questions. If, like me, you haven’t done an exam for a decade or two, it can be a daunting prospect.
That’s why – I like to think, anyway – it can be really useful to have a tutor who’s been through the process so recently. I know the fear and sympathise. I can walk you through how I dealt with it in practice. Take essays, for example – how do you structure an essay about notification under DPA? What do you include? What do you leave out? How do you get as much down as possible in three hours? I can tell you what it’s actually like when you walk in the room, and how I coped – and passed.
As well as enhancing your knowledge and putting you in the position to pass an exam, the other benefit of the BCS programmes run by Act Now Training is that they are run over several weeks. What this means is that you have time between each group session to absorb the learning from the previous week and do the required study. It also means that you get to know your fellow delegates well over the five or six weeks, and benefit from their experience and knowledge. It’s one thing to hear what the law says, and what your tutor thinks, but it adds an entirely new dimension to your understanding when you can hear how others have dealt with issues they’ve encountered in a wide variety of organisations from across the public and private sectors (the latter more especially on the BCS DP programme). For example, you will learn about the Information Commissioner’s enforcement powers on the DP programme, but in one recent programme I tutored, we all benefitted from hearing what it was like in practice to be on the receiving end of a monetary penalty notice, and what lessons the receiving authority had learnt from that experience.
Coupled with the face-to-face learning, Act Now’s BCS courses include a live online revision session and access to an online resources lab, which contains, amongst other things, over ten hours of revision videos and over twenty quizzes (both unique to Act Now). Try the sample online test.
If you choose to do a BCS qualification, I will do my utmost to guide you and support you through to a successful conclusion. I look forward to meeting you.
Paul Gibbons is a consultant and trainer in information rights and information management. He has been working in this field for 20 years. There are a handful of places left on our BCS Courses (More here). Read successful BCS candidates’ top tips here.