School census changes one year on – when will children be told?

One year ago, on September 1, 2016 a new law came into force, before any possible parliamentary or public scrutiny, that had snuck through in the six-week school summer holidays.

The British government then began to collect the nationality data of every school child in England in the school census.

What no one was told at that time, was that there was already a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in place between the DfE and Home Office, to hand over “(Once collected) Nationality,” for a range of purposes including “to create a hostile environment” and immigration enforcement.

The monthly transfers of pupils names, home and school addresses, date of birth and gender among other items for Home Office purposes, which began in secret in 2015, continue today.

The timeline one year on, tells the story not of a new data collection law, but a nasty change in national policy towards children and that this change of policy had headed off worse plans.

There are many unanswered questions, one year on:

1. How many children’s data have been handed over from DfE every month, and why are the numbers still in secret? (Except in our FOI requests)
2. Is nationality being used in the serches or matching despite what has been said in public? DfE has refused an FOI request to make public how many children’s data the DfE handed over in Q2 2017 and a copy of the current MOU because saying the information is ‘to be published in future’. But when?
3. Why is there such a low match rate (ca 25%), and on what legal basis does the Home Office justify handing over so much data in error to the DfE?
4. Who has responsibility for children’s wellbeing and oversight of families affected?
5. What course of redress do families have, where decisions are made in error?
6. Who has accountability for ensuring data laws are met? — schools are still not being told the truth — there is no mention of these purposes in new 2017-18 School Census Guidance.

Objections since the law changed

Against Borders for Children formed in August 2016, and supported by Liberty, and over 20 rights organisations, with support of parents, teachers, MPs and Lords from across the political spectrum, we all continue to campaign to end the use of pupil data for non-education purposes.

In a House of Lords motion-of-regret in October 2016, The Earl of Clancarty summed up public feeling for many families who were unhappy about the expansion,Parents are upset, not just about how this information might be used, but because these questions are asked at all.”

The National Subject Association for EAL (English as an Additional Language), NALDIC, asked the Department for Education to, “reconsider its position urgently”.

The National Union of Teachers called in October 2016 for any use of pupil data by the HO to end, emphasising that, “schools are not part of policing immigration”. Their members opposed it unanimously at their annual conference in April 2017 and called for proper information to be given to schools and parents.

“Government needs to ensure that use is consent based – again, so that relations between schools and parents are not compromised.”

When will parents and pupils be told?

Ed Humpherson, the General Director of Regulation at the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), suggested in February 2017, (after the Spring school census in January in which there was widespread failure to fairly and legally collect and process the new school census nationality data) that the Department writes before the next autumn school census to “inform parents … of their rights in regard to this collection”.

This communication to the public has still not happened.

There are 8 million children in school that privacy notices fail to reach, and 15 million who have left school without knowing.

There are no Department plans to inform them, according to Lord Nash.

  1. When will the volume of children whose data are handed over, be published in a regular and transparent way?
  2. When will there be independent oversight of the use and releases of pupil data?
  3. And when will parents and pupils be told, that their sensitive and identifying data, entrusted in confidence for their schooling, are given away to third parties without their consent?

 

Notes:

i. Memorandum of Understanding (v1.0) in place between the DfE and Home Office, included plans to hand over “(Once collected) Nationality,” para 15.2.6 [download .pdf 538 kB].

ii. The Department for Education third-party release register is a list of requests for access to identifying and individual level pupil data (not anonymous statistics, but raw data released to own settings) that is collected in the school census every school term, linked with exam data, and stored in the National Pupil Database. Other users of the 23 million people’s records in the database include academics, charities, commercial businesses, data intermediaries, journalists, think tanks, other government arms-length bodies, and other government departments. [Note that pre 2017 has been recently archived]

[updated 16:44 September 1, with the FOI released today, refusal of Q2 numbers]