Nationality and country of birth school census data collection to end

The Department for Education (DfE) will end the national collection of country of birth and nationality data in England, ahead of the summer school census, according to Schools Week today.

Letters to Heads are expected to follow.

The BBC said that the DfE  declined to deny the shift of position.

This is a victory for everyone who has stood with us, and who formed and contributed to the Against Borders for Children #BoycottSchoolCensus coalition. 

Public and professional opinion is strongly opposed to going after children using their school records. After a year, and three termly collections, the DfE reported that these new data had not yet been obtained or had been actively refused, from over 25% of children. A massive boycott result.

All credit to the sustained, dedicated efforts by volunteers for over eighteen months, by teachers, parents, campaigners and young people themselves who took action to refuse retract and resist the divisive policy. Thanks to the many ABC coalition partners, thanks to collaboration and contributions from many organisations and supporters, in policy and work behind the scenes, and a massive effort by ABC and their supporters together with Liberty to challenge the collection most recently in the courts.  Thanks to staff in organisations who work tirelessly to support children to feel safe to go to school.

We are delighted this divisive and damaging policy will be scrapped. We look forward to every education data collection being for the right reasons [1] and done in ways that are safe, fair and transparent.

The Department for Education has taken an important and positive step to safeguard data quality for research purposes and public good in this shift. Data must be used fairly, for the purposes we expect when it is collected. Damage in trusted data uses is likely to get worse and result in broader data contagion if the misuse does not end. The statistics published in December 2017 speak for themselves. [2]

Most importantly, the Department has taken a step to safeguard children in education. This divisive Home Office policy has caused, and continues [3] to cause, harm and distress to children, compounded by some handling in practice [4].

What’s next? The data should never have been collected at all. Now those data gathered under this policy and SI 808/2016 at national level must be destroyed.

This is vital to restore public and professional trust. The new nationality information the government holds on millions of children, must not be misused in future. There is nothing that would prevent that happening in secret, except paper promises.

It is of grave concern that the government wants to create a new exemption in the Data Protection Bill that is nothing to do with the GDPR (Schedule 2, Part one, Paragraph 4) [Hansard, March 13, 2018] [5] and says the exemption will be used with pupil data, for policy that began in July 2015 under a secret MOU. The government wants to embed that secrecy into the Data Protection Bill at the same time as it reduces children’s rights to understand how data are used, to check for errors or verify lawful processing.

So while we’re celebrating this change of policy for good, we continue to call for the end of every use of children’s education data for Home Office purposes. [6] And we’re advocating for a Code of Practice in Education to be put into the Data Protection Bill, to help bring clarity, confidence and consistency in improved data practices across the sector.

We also continue to challenge another unsafe and unfair data collection from thousands of school children in England. Every child should know who has their data, for what purposes, and why.

Thank you to all the campaigners and supporters and those behind the scenes who contributed to this massive win for children’s rights today.

If you want to help us to keep up this work, defending children’s data privacy and human rights, please pledge your support.


NOTES

[1] Leaked Cabinet Office letters in December 2016: Theresa May had plan to ‘deprioritise’ illegal migrant pupils http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-38165395

[2] The Department published its statistics  on the collection of nationality and country of birth data for the first time – as collected in the January 2017 census. In summary, in January 2017, there were 8.1 million pupils registered at schools in England. The National Pupil Database from which data are still used monthly, contains over 23 million named records.

  • 23.5% of pupils have no recorded country of birth
  • 20.6% country of birth is not yet obtained (NYO)
  • 1.9% country of birth refusal (plus 1.1% not known – should be used where truly unknown and separate from NYO) = 153,900 refusals.
  • 25.6% of pupils have no recorded nationality of which 22.5% is not yet obtained and 2.1% refusal (1.0 not known) = 170,100 refusals
  • 74.4 per cent of pupils were recorded with a specific nationality. Of those pupils where a nationality was provided, 91.4 per cent were recorded with a nationality of British

[3] The DfE continues to hand over children’s personal confidential data monthly that was collected for education, now to the Home Office for immigration enforcement. This is incompatible with the purposes of good data protection law and a breach of trust that the government seeks to embed in the Data Protection Bill currently before the House of Commons.

[4] Selected past stories

Schools Week – Pupils who were not white British told to send in birthplace data
Media Diversified – New immigration data collection in schools: another brick in the wall
The Guardian – Scrap this pupil data collection: it’s a divisive threat to our children’s safety
BBC – UK school pupil ethnicity question angers Italy
The Independent – ‘Racist’ school census that ‘targets two-year-olds’ to go ahead despite growing pressure
The Guardian Schools – What society lets families fear deportation for sending children to school?

[5] Hansard March 13, 2018, Committee Stage Data Protection Bill https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-03-13/debates/41603d40-9a08-4722-8a0a-a7295bc764c7/DataProtectionBill(Lords)(SecondSitting)#contribution-8D39BA9F-68A6-4F4E-BBA7-B526CDE1FACF

[6] Timeline of the adding of nationality and country of birth to the schools census http://defenddigitalme.com/timeline-school-census/  and discovery of secret policy using up to 1,500 children’s school records a month for immigration enforcement purposes — introduced without telling schools or consultation 

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