Friday, 19 September 2014

BCS holds first public exam for its new Foundation Certificate

There were huge queues snaking around Covent Garden this morning. Television crews were also covering the great event. People had evidently been queuing for days to be one of the first to have what will become a very treasured possession.

I, on the other hand, wasn’t queuing for a new iPhone.

I was in a shorter queue, just a hundred yards away. I was waiting patiently to sit the very first public exam for the British Computer Society’s new Foundation Certificate in Data Protection at the BCS’s offices in Covent Garden.

To be fair, it wasn’t really a queue. After all, there was no-one on front of me, and there was no-one behind me, actually. I was the first (and quite possibly the only) candidate for this first public exam session.

How was it for me?

Well, I sat the 40-question multiple choice paper, laughed at some of the questions, and found it quite hard to understand just what the examiners were trying to get at with one or two of the questions.  It was all over in less than an hour.

And my impression?

I think it’s a really good introduction into the (occasionally mysterious) world of data protection.  Most data protection officers will find it a useful grounding – and a recognised qualification like this ought to place many people in good stead. It provides candidates with the basic framework around which the really complicated bits of data protection hang.

Candidates don’t need to have a brain the size of the planet to pass this exam.  And, rather than just testing the law, it also tests a candidate’s knowledge of what is best practice, as advocated by the ICO.

Candidates also don’t need to undertake a formal training session before sitting the exam.  It would certainly help if they were to attend one of the accredited training courses, though (that is, once the trainers have got their formal training accreditation from the BCS to deliver an appropriate training course). 

Candidates also don’t need deep pockets to keep the qualification. The BCS does not require certificate holders to subscribe to or to continue to subscribe to the BCS in order to keep it.  That may be of considerable interest to employers. 

I’m so keen on the concept that I’ve a good mind to apply to the BCS myself to become an accredited trainer. I’ve got my exam notes. I’ve prepared coursework that ought to entertain and educate students for the time that the BCS considers necessary to study for the qualification. (Which is just 16 hours). I’ve even sat the exam. What more could a group of motivated students want?

Those who pass this exam may feel that they’ve had enough data protection training for a while, and not feel a need to step up to the next level, which is the qualification more fondly known as the ISEB Certificate in Data Protection.   The ISEB has a reputation as the hardest data protection exam around.

Do make sure you’ve got ISEB’s little brother under your belt. That really will stand you in good stead during the initial phases of your data protection career. When you've more experience of the data protection world, then feel free to take the "full fat" ISEB data protection exam.

By launching this Foundation Certificate, candidates now face a choice between the BSI’s certification scheme and that operated by the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

As I have not taken any of the IAPP’s exams, I’m not qualified to express a preference between them. 

I’m just pleased that the CIPP/E exam potentially faces some stiff competition from the BCS.