Judicial Review of new children’s school census data #LabelsLastaLifetime

We’re challenging the latest Department for Education data collection in Court

defenddigitalme has begun the legal process to challenge the Department for Education over yet another new collection and use of highly sensitive personal confidential data, from children in England.

Lawyers at Leigh Day, supported by Doughty Street Chambers have sent a letter before action on our behalf to start a judicial review of the new law that expanded the personal data being collected in the Alternative Provision Census.

While we at defenddigitalme advocate for better data policy and practice, we are also campaigning to end the bad. Despite our best efforts to bring collaborative change over three years, the Department for Education seems determined to continue to jeopardise children’s confidentiality.

In September the government brought in a Statutory Instrument to collect even more  sensitive data to the vast amount of personal data collected on children in state education. We asked for changes.

Together with charities and leading advocates of child rights in England, again we asked in December, to first make the existing database safe, fair and transparent. We wrote to the new Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Damien Hinds in January to ask for change before the collection began on January 18th.

But it has not happened.

defenddigitalme believes the policy should be overturned because it is a violation of the rights of children and their families to a private life. Children and families have not been told what will be done with their sensitive personal confidential data. Children and their families do not know labels like ‘pregnancy’ or ‘mental health’ will be added to their named record and sent to the national pupil database forever. Or that from there, their information will be given away to third parties. The data are not safe.

The data are being submitted by Local Authorities now to the Department for Education – between January 18 and March 2nd. The identifying, personal confidential data from the Alternative Provision data will then be added to the National Pupil Database, and available to a wide range of third parties from June. [ref. 1.4.5 NPD User Guide].

Children’s data have been commercialised, and their confidentiality compromised. We are campaigning to make the data safe. Users should come to the data, not have their identifiable data copied and given away, as it has been over 1,000 times since 2012. There are better, safer ways of providing access to personal confidential data for research purposes.

We want to get this new policy scrapped. Now, with the support of Leigh Day and Doughty Street, we’re hoping to win this in court – and we need support to cover the legal costs.

We would welcome your support, whether you are able to pledge to donate, call for change within your community, or share the link with your network.

Please participate in any way you can in our upcoming activities, to help advocate for good practice, and challenge the status quo in the best interests of the child. It’s time for change.

If you can, please donate via the link to our CrowdJustice page or click below. Data used badly can mean stigma and discrimination. #LabelsLastaLifetime.

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Jen Persson, Director, said:

“The data are highly sensitive and potentially discriminatory and stigmatising when shared with a whole range of third parties. Who knows what might change how these data may be used in future, well beyond their educational purposes, for example in predictive policing or for interventions. Children’s right to confidentiality must come first and the Department (DfE) must safeguard the best interests for every child to prevent them from harm and promote their flourishing. The DfE must end the distribution of identifying data, make all collection fair and lawful, and data use must become safe and transparent to children and parents it affects.

“Many who work in the sector have told us that data will not show a true picture of the sector needs or best interests of the child. The example given in national guidance is that where a child has a mental health need and has been permanently excluded, the primary reason for placement will be “permanent exclusion”. Not mental health. There is no reason that shows the reason for alternative provision is lack of adequate provision in the mainstream setting. Some are counting children only on January 18th, some those from teh last 364 days. It’s unclear to many what the data are even trying to demonstrate.”


Download our Alternative Provision Census Briefing [download .pdf 924kB]. The National Pupil Database isone of the richest education datasets in the worldusing records from every child in state education.

defenddigitalme campaigns for safe, fair and transparent children’s data across the education sector.

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

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. It’s all part of improving children’s digital understanding.