The National Pupil Database – where school census data ends up. Have you or your children been a pupil or student aged 2-19, since 1995?

Your personal, identifiable and sensitive data might be among the nearly 20 million pupil records [1] taken from schools in England since 2000 [2], stored and given out by the Department for Education since 2012 to third parties, including commercial organisations like data management consultancies, think tanks, and “one-man shows”, as well as charities, Fleet Street and television journalists.

defenddigitalme is campaigning to make pupil data safe. Users should come to the data, not have raw identifiable data copied and sent out over 1795 times, as it has been between 2012 and 2016. There are better, safer ways of providing access to personal confidential data for research purposes. These will become requirements before May 2018 and many already are under existing law. We have campaigned and been involved in work over the last 18 months including the DfE led recent workshop to move pupil data towards safer, fair and consent based privacy preserving models of data management.

We believe children and parents should be informed, and have control over their own personal data, if and how they are stored and used in the National Pupil Database.

The National Pupil Database is “one of the richest education datasets in the world” using records from every child in state education, and some independent schools.

Our research shows that schools, children and parents don’t know this database exists. Schools are not told about the onward distribution of personal data to third parties from the National Pupil Database. This must change.

The Department for Education must:

  • Make pupil data safe
  • Stop giving out identifiable data to commercial third parties and press without consent
  • Start telling pupils and parents what it does with their identifiable data
  • Be transparent about policy and practice

The Department of Education must hold and handle the data it has taken from citizens in ways people could reasonably expect, transparently, and with respect.

defenddigitalme is a non-profit run by volunteer parents, with support from legal, privacy, and data protection experts. We welcome new supporters, just contact us here.

For a longer introduction to the National Pupil Database, listen to the sound cloud of a presentation given by Phil Booth and Terri Dowty in 2012.


Did you know the Department for Education is collecting every child in England’s country of birth and nationality in a national pupil database from autumn 2016?

Facts about the expansion to start collecting nationality data

For Parents, Guardians and Pupils

If you have children in school, or are under 19, in England and some of the schools in border areas with Wales, this new census collection will affect you. See our latest summary here or read recent coverage. If you have concerns take action today:

  • You can choose to withhold your child’s country-of-birth and nationality data, as well as ethnicity. Ask to use the refused code. Schools may also be leaving the default not yet obtained.
  • You can ask your school in the usual way, to update information you provided previously
  • See our call to Action.
  • Support the #BoycottSchoolCensus campaign by Against Borders for Children.

The new law needs scrapped and safeguards need written into legislation that all school census data are only to be used for the purposes parents expect when they entrust their children’s and their own personal data to schools.

Why: Read about the latest use of pupil data collected in school census past, including almost 2,500 requests by the Home Office for immigration control purposes since July 2015.

The National Union of Teachers has also called for this use of pupil data to end, emphasising that “schools are not part of policing immigration.”

If we are concerned about what lists of foreign workers might be used for, we should certainly be concerned about lists of families being used already. Pupil data are also accessible by police, and given out to commercial companies and journalists without consent. As Laura McInerney wrote, what society lets families fear deportation for sending their children to school?

For Schools

Your census may be collecting these new data for the first time on May 18th 2017. Schools could leave the default ‘not yet obtained’ for country-of-birth until there are more answers what this data will be used for and with what safeguards. Refused is also a legitimate field return. These new data items are not required for funding. The Lords in answers to questions on October 12th 2016 confirmed there will be no sanction on schools or parents who choose to withhold these data. Parents and pupils can choose to refuse.

We believe ongoing use of national pupil data by the Home Office of census data in the National Pupil Database, breaches schools’ parental and children’s trust. This is now paramount. This new policy intent needs close scrutiny.

Our key concerns are around how the law was introduced with vague purposes for unclear cost and benefit, expanding the pupil data collection without clear purposes or necessity and that pupils and parents are not being told what data are going to be used for and by whom. Third party and commercial use for example, is not explained. We support quality research purposes and believe everyone should know who else has their personal data, and what it is used for.

If this data has already been entered or submitted, it can be retracted if you replace current values with refused. The right to request this data removal was confirmed in the school census guidance v1.5 published on January 10, 2017 [p61 5.3] and in Early Years guidance v1.4.

For Early Years and Alternative provision

Your census on January 19th 2017 was due to collect these new data for the first time. On November 16th 2016 the Department for Education sent a memo to Local Authorities to say that the collection of country-of-birth, nationality and language has been stopped. We await more answers what happens if the data has already been collected by child minders, nurseries and all other settings and to ensure how the providers cannot accidentally submit it and how it will be deleted from local systems.

The rest of the Early Years census continues, and ethnicity data is optional, however there is a change this year. It is going to be collected on a required field basis for the first time from this age group. The required field cannot be blank, but does permit ‘not yet obtained’ and ‘refused’ which parents and pupils can use without sanction.


[1] updated on Feb 8th 2016 in response to a Freedom of Information request. The total number of Unique Pupil Numbers (UPNs) in the NPD as at 28/12/2015 was 19,807,973. This covers pupil records since 2000. We had previously been told 8-9 million.

[2] Higher Education data held in HESA databases dates from as far back as 1994.