The privacy of some of our most vulnerable children is under threat

Are you concerned about the privacy of some of our most vulnerable children?

Pregnant children will be named in a new national pupil dataset, along with other reasons for transfers from mainstream school into alternative provision for other mental and physical health, or young offender reasons, from Jan 2018, reports Schools Week.

Each pupil’s information will be collected in the Alternative Provision Census. Currently the data in the AP census are sent to the Department at national level, and added to a growing database of 23 million people, the National Pupil Database (NPD). The data from the NPD are given out today, not as anonymised data, but identifying data (see p19), together with name and full address, date of birth, special educational needs, attainment results across the educational lifetime from age 2-19 and much more.

“The census of pupils in alternative provision is a local authority census that requires the return of individual pupil records. The census covers pupils attending a school not maintained by an local authority for whom the authority is paying full tuition fees, or educated otherwise than in schools and pupil referral units, under arrangements made (and funded) by the authority.” [AP Guide 1.4]

The data are never deleted.

Children are therefore labelled for life in the National Pupil Database, using these codes that record a range of mental and physical health, or young offender reasons for transfer. This adds to the sensitivity of data already collected on Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND).

Data from the National Pupil Database, including sensitive special needs data (SEN) (eg including profound & multiple learning difficulty, hearing and visual impairment and Autism) has already been passed on since 2012 to commercial companies, charities, think tanks, newspaper and TV journalists at an individual pupil-level for millions of pupils at a time, without any suppression of small numbers.

Will pregnancy and youth offending data be on offer too?

Further, commercial and research third parties are keeping their own copies of National Pupil Database data, and make linkage with their own supplemental data, with and without informed consent, storing and sharing data forever.

Indicators such as adopted from care and service children, also carry special security sensitivities.
These data may carry lifelong stigma and implications for life chances when used inside and outside government for interventions, with high risks of impact if used, where data are inaccurate.

This is a highly significant new national data policy, affecting some of the most vulnerable children in England. It vastly increases risk of loss of privacy without any clear reason why knowledge could not be collected in a privacy-preserving method. The government changed the law in the summer holidays, without any public consultation or parliamentary debate.

We appreciate and support the need to understand the reasons for pupil AP transfers, in particular concerns about pupils being “managed out” from mainstream school to boost league table results.

But the Department has not published any plans to tell schools how to inform parents and children about the details of this expansion of the data collection. This is despite the Data Protection requirement to explain it with clear reasons to the pupils, when the information are collected. Who exactly will access these new data? If the brand new October 2017 AP Census Guide doesn’t tell schools, how can schools tell pupils and parents?

 

Only last year Lord Nash agreed that new nationality and country of birth data were “too sensitive” to be added to the database. But special needs and these reasons for exclusions are already, or will be added to the NPD.

We believe these new data are equally sensitive and inappropriate to hand out as identifying data.

We asked the Department for Education about this in September, but are yet to receive any response to know what safeguards they plan to offer.

Contact your MP as below, and get in touch with us if you want to support. We need all data to be made safe, fair, and transparent.

Actions you can take:

  1. Use writeToThem.com to contact your MP, and (politely) tell them why this is important to you and your family, ask your MP if they will ask a question – why are my sensitive data being given away without my consent? – and tell them what you want to change.
    1. All children are vulnerable and their sensitive data must be safe. DfE must stop giving out identifying, sensitive data without consent. Every researcher should come to the data, not data sent to them.
    2. Every child should be told why their data are being collected. There should be a consent mechanism in place for use of data beyond direct care.
    3. Every use of data must be clear to schools that submit it in the census. Use of all data from the National Pupil Database must be transparent.
  2. Make sure your school is clear about this sensitive new collection, and that governors, parents and children are told how all data are used, and limitations of future use. Ask them to contact their union, and MPs, asking DfE to get more information out to schools and assurance how it will be communicated to children and parents.
  3. Post this link to Facebook or Twitter so your friends can help too.

National Pupil data are also used today across government in Troubled Families — a risk without transparency in a programme that some academics see “any family could be made to fit”— , and are given to the National Citizen Service, and stored forever; without pupils’/parents’ knowledge, or self-verification for accuracy or correction. Pupil data from the school census are also used by the Home Office.

The law was changed in a Statutory Instrument over the summer holidays, the Education (Information About Children in Alternative Provision)(England) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 (SI 2017/807). See page 9 of the report.

Download our briefing for more background and questions to ask.

When filling out the named pupil-level census, councils will have to select one of the following eight options for a pupil’s “primary reason for placement.”

  • Setting named on EHC plan
  • Mental health need
  • New arrival without a school place
  • Other
  • Pregnancy / childcare
  • Permanent exclusion
  • Physical health need
  • Pupil in young offender institute / secure training centre