Call to Action: Are you concerned about the privacy of some of our most vulnerable children?

Starting in January 2018, the Department for Education will collect pregnancy, physical and mental health and young offender labels from school children on a named basis. The sensitive data will record one of eight reasons for placement and be collected together with more detailed and invasive information about special needs and disability, in the Alternative Provision Census.

Pupils and parents will not be asked for consent. There is no option to refuse.  Most children are unlikely to be told at all.

It will affect around 22, 000 children each year, who move from mainstream school into alternative education but are not in pupil referral units, and not only the ca 6,000 excluded each year. AP includes children outside mainstream education by choice. More detailed special educational needs information will also be collected for each child at national level, including labels for autism, hearing and visual impairment, learning difficulties, and other disabilities.

These data are not going to be used for the care of the child, (that is already known and collected at local and Local Authority level) but for other re-use purposes.

Distribution from the National Pupil Database is identifying not anonymous

Each pupil’s information will be sent to the Department, on a named basis, where the AP census data are linked to the school census data, in the National Pupil Database (NPD) available from June each year after their collection in January, according to the NPD User Guide (see page 8).

We are concerned because from here, these identifying data are given out to third parties; over 1,000 times as of May 2017, many for commercial re-use and even to journalists without a child’s or parent’s permission.

We think this policy needs to change, and change urgently. Because #LabelsLastaLifetime and every child has a right to confidentiality.

The data are identifiable at pupil-level, not anonymous, and stored forever. The information include name and address, date of birth, special educational needs, results across the educational lifetime from age 2-19 and more.

We appreciate the reasons why it is important to understand these children’s life stories. We are concerned about how those data are collected, distributed, and never deleted.

The Department has done no assessment of the risk

The Schools Minister claims it will not be any more of a privacy risk – despite the fact that these highly sensitive data will be added to a national, indefinite collection and given out to a whole new range of third parties without being made anonymous. The Department refuses to assess the risks (PQ 108570) and brought in the change of law in the summer holidays.

These data will potentially result in lifelong discrimination, and could harm children’s development and restrict their flourishing to reach their full potential; used for direct interventions when linked with data across government, by police and released to other third parties at national level.


Actions you can take

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

Here’s a quick guide to help you discuss the issues whether you meet your MP in person, write to them or send an email.

Post this link to Facebook or Twitter so your friends can help too. #labelslastalifetime

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 for commercial re-use without my consent? – and tell them what you want to change. You might want to use something from our suggested text below.

You can download a suggested text, but it’s better if you use your own words, and always include your name and address to show that you are in your MP’s constituency.


SUGGESTED TEMPLATE CONTENT TO WRITE TO THEM [follow link to find your MP]

[download draft letter text . pdf]

 

[Date]

Dear [title and name of your MP]

I am concerned about children’s privacy in a new national government data collection in England. I would like to ask you to call on the Department for Education to pause the plans to put safeguards in place, and make sure the children and parents affected are told.

The Department for Education will start to collect highly sensitive indicators from school children who transfer out of mainstream education into Alternative Provision for one of eight reasons, including pregnancy, young offender, and health.

Pupils and parents will not be asked for consent. There is no option to refuse.

The government should pause the expansion of the Alternative Provision Census before its collection starting on January 18, 2018, unless safeguards are put in place to:

  • protect children’s confidentiality and safeguarding
  • make data safe, end the distribution of confidential data, and address the security of the data
  • prevent the stigmatising effects and harm it could have on children for life

Representative from over 20 leading charities and child rights advocates, including ALLFIE, Mencap, the NEU (NUT), the Teenage Pregnancy Knowledge Exchange, Trailblazers young offender mentoring, and Unlock have written to the Secretary of State for Education  with these concerns.

  • The information are stored forever in the National Pupil Database, now of over 23 m people.
  • Identifying, pupil-level data are given out to third-parties including for commercial re-use, to charities, think tanks, and to journalists. Data have been given to the police, and handed out for linkage to Police National Computer data. These uses are not for the care of the child, but secondary re-uses.
  • Data handed out to researchers own location can include pupil name and address, date of birth, special educational needs, attainment and exclusions across a child’s lifetime education age 2-19.

Ofsted’s Report on Local area SEND inspections and a recent report by think Tank IPRR Making the Difference show the importance of understanding these information. But that should not be at  the expense of the lifetime privacy of the children affected. Children have a right to privacy and Article 12 of the UNCRC says that children and young people have the human right to be involved in decisions about them.

If the Department of Education cannot stop the distribution of identifying data for re-use, and commit to children’s confidentiality; we believe the government should not collect the data at all.

Thank you for your time and I hope you will ask questions, and call for the changes that need made.


Background: How data are used today

Our supporters and signatories of a letter to the Department for Education.

You can some more background and read about our concerns in Schools Week. Download our briefing for more facts.

See the AP Guide 1.3  for more background to the census.

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 reason why knowledge could not be collected in a more privacy-preserving method.

Based on current 2016 numbers, the new collection would affect around 22,000 children each year, but all 23 million records in the NPD are compromised each year. The Department appears to have no intention to tell providers or the local authority 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.

Identifying and sensitive reasons for exclusion and SEN data (eg including profound & multiple learning difficulty, hearing and visual impairment and Autism) are already given away today to third parties from the school census collections once every term. Will pregnancy and youth offending data be on offer for commercial re-use to third parties too?

Data from the National Pupil Database, including sensitive special needs data (SEN) 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. The Department doesn’t even know how many children’s records it gives away each time. (PQ109113)

Relying on journalists not publishing the pupil-level data, as the Telegraph “assured” the DfE in 2013 for about 9 million records, handed out without hiding small numbers, is an utterly inadequate level of protection for pupils’ sensitive data.

This year only one release of data from between January 2017 and May 2017 was not at pupil level. 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.

Requests to use national pupil data have also included for research for operational predictive policing.

Children and families are refused subject access requests, so there is no safety check if these data are accurate or need corrected before use, or for people to find out how their data were used.


Principles

1. All children are vulnerable and their sensitive data must be safe.
2. Use of all data from the National Pupil Database must be transparent.
3. Stop giving out identifying, sensitive data without consent.
4. Every child should be told why their data are being collected. That includes the 15 million people in the database who have left school.
5. Every researcher should come to the data, stop sending data to them.
6. Every use of data must be clear to schools that submit it in the census.

No consultation has taken place

When making arrangements about early childhood services, a local authority must have regard to such information about the views of children as is available and appears to them to be relevant to the discharge of those duties (section 3(5) Childcare Act 2006).The local authority is also required to consult such children as it considers appropriate when undertaking a childcare sufficiency assessment under section 11. So why is there no consultation on use of their personal data?