Ahead of the Lords debate on the motion of regret related to the expanded pupil data collection it is vital that facts are clarified to the House.

The Lords will debate the motion of regret on Monday October 31st, that that nationality and country-of-birth data collected under these new regulations, could be used to help determine a child’s immigration status. The fact that children’s school records are already being used for immigration and enforcement purposes (providing home address and school address), gives good reason to think that could be one of the data future uses, since Schools Minister said on July 26th, that there were no plans to change the Department’s data handling protocols.

On what basis can the Lords or public trust that the newly added census data will not be used to “to help determine a child’s immigration status”, or rely on any future change of policy or government ot doing so, when the government has made no statement on the existing Home Office use of the data for immigration enforcement purposes to date?

Home Office access to pupil data

Did Lord Younger of Leckie not know that the Home Office has access to pupils’ confidential data from the National Pupil Database when he said in the House of Lords on Wednesday October 12th [watch the 7 minute Q&A]:

“I can reassure the noble Lord the information is not given to the Home Office.”

If he had read the letter to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee from September 3rd 2016, then he would have known that there had been Home Office to national pupil database data on 18 fulfilled occasions since 2012.

We did not yet know for how many individual children this was for in each request or the purposes of their access. [1]

Further detail emerged through another Freedom of Information response [2], published by the Department for Education at the end of the School Census day, October 6th, which explicitly states that not only has the Department  for Education shared data with the Home Office but some of it has been for immigration and enforcement purposes:

“All cases within the Home Office requests are a) dependant(s) of a parent/guardian who is suspected of an offence under section 24 or 24A of the Immigration Act 1971, or section 35 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004 has been, or is being committed [or b) the child in question is an unaccompanied minor and HO has lost contact with the child giving rise to concerns over their wellbeing.]”

The Minister for School Standards Nick Gibb said in answer to a Parliamentary Written Question on July 26th that existing practices would continue:

“There are currently no plans for the Department to change the existing protocols and processes for the handling and disclosure of confidential information.”[3]

“There are currently no plans to share the data with other government Departments.”

Why did neither not explain the existing use by the Home Office under ‘other government departments’?

Why did suddenly on September 26th — after pressure in a public letter to Justine Greening from over 20 rights’ organisations under the campaign, Against Borders for Children — the Department tell the BBC that “These data items will not be passed to the Home Office”, and “They are solely for internal Department for Education use for analysis, statistics and research.”

They went on to respond to the letter signatories on October 5th.

Other users access to newly collected pupil data – country of birth & nationality – will it differ

Lord Leckie on the 12th also went on to say:

“that the information is kept within the Department for Education.”

There are now questions how data will be “solely for internal DfE use for analysis, statistics and research and the data items will not be passed to Home Office.”

If there were no plans for change on July 26th to current uses, then will the new census data not also be passed out to third party users for public interest research, as well as for commercial purposes, to journalists, charities and a range of other bodies?

Chunks of once only children’s, now adults’ identifiable data have been handed out fulfilling over 709 requests and releases of identifiable data from the DfE request process in 2012-2016. Only 23 have been for aggregated data. The rest are all of identifying, individual pupil level data.

Given the rise over recent years in xenophobic sentiment in the British media, as noted by the United Nations, the campaign groups share concerns that newspapers granted access to the data may use it to single out and stigmatise schools attended by migrant children.

BBC and television journalists received Tier 1 data, the most sensitive, including ethnicity data “to spot Poles as opposed to Germans”, and to “distinguish between Somali and Nigerian children.”

The Telegraph was granted 5 years worth of children’s sensitive data including ethnicity in 2013 alone. The newspaper offered “cast iron assurances that no pupil will be identified through our use of the data”[in its published outputs], as it received the identifiable, sensitive data of millions of  children.

How all these journalistic uses meet Data Protection requirements is unknown because “there is no written evidence available of the condition for processing under Schedule 3 of the Data Protection Act that the Daily Telegraph relied on [for the DfE to release the data].”

It is said that the benefit of giving the data to third-parties is for public interest and ‘promoting the education or well-being of children’. Separate out the public interest researchers, and few parents would think of commercial data consultancies, schools guides, and private pupil-tutor matching services among appropriate recipients for their children’s identifiable sensitive data at individual pupil level without consent.

Concluding questions of trust

The fact that data are already shared with the Home Office and that …” the data items will not be passed to the Home Office” gives no assurance that pupil information will not be used for Home Office purposes.

The Department for Education must answer why all uses of children’s confidential records is not made clear to Parliament and to schools who are responsible for collecting the data and expected to explain the purposes to parents and pupils, including data use for commercial purposes from every child in England without consent.

How will the Department change their protocols, going against what Nick Gibb said in July, to ensure that data remains only with the Department for research and statistical purposes and that information are not given or shared in any way with the Home Office? Any new agreement is unlikely to carry meaningful weight and no one has been able to scrutinise it.

How government uses data across all departments for all reasons needs to be explained, with public transparency.

We must get these issues fixed before data sharing in secret is allowed to continue, and not only for our pupils’ wellbeing, and for the professional relationship between schools and home, but also before these issues — the lack of accountability, scrutiny, oversight and data management practices — are copy-pasted across all our public datasets through the Digital Economy Bill now in Parliament.

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[1] There have been 18 fulfilled requests since 2012. We do not yet know for how many individual children this was for in each request. “There is a standard request form which only differs each time in the number of individuals being provided to search for and the password to access the data file.”
Source: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/pupil_data_sharing_with_the_poli#incoming-846569
We also understand that not all access is via the DfE but may be made directly to other external organisations who hold a copy of the National Pupil Database.

[2]October 6th 2016, FOI.  The Home Office requests include those used to support immigration control.
“All cases within the Home Office requests are
a) dependant(s) of a parent/guardian who is suspected of an offence under section 24 or 24A of the Immigration Act 1971, or section 35 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004 has been, or is being committed
Source: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/sharing_national_pupil_database?nocache=incoming-878444#incoming-878444

[3] There are, or at least were no plans for Home Office access to pupil data for immigration enforcement purposes stop. Nick Gibb said in answer to a Parliamentary Written Question on July 26th,  “There are currently no plans for the Department to change the existing protocols and processes for the handling and disclosure of confidential information.”
Source: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2016-07-15/42942/


[4] defenddigitalme is one of over 20 rights’ groups supporting the Against Borders for Children coalition  that wrote on September 24th to the Secretary of State for Education. https://www.schoolsabc.net/2016/09/letter-justine-greening/ See Against Borders For Children campaign for resources.

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