For schools, parents and pupils: collection of new nationality and country of birth from children in England

What’s the story?

In June 2018, the Department for Education confirmed nationality and country-of-birth data must no longer be collected, with immediate effect. You can read more about why and what happened when the Department for Education expanded the school census in 2016 to start collecting nationality and country of birth on every child in England, reviewing the school census nationality data timeline. We also discovered, that national pupil data had been used in secret for immigration enforcement purposes since 2015. That use continues in monthly national pupil data handovers.

What can you do?

Children and parents can retract data previously submitted to and through the school. You can refuse retract and resist misuse of education data for the purposes of the hostile environment. You can download and use the text in this template to help you. Schools must no longer collect data for the purposes of submitting them in the national school census

  • Country of Birth
  • Nationality

and can also continue to choose not to provide what has been collected before September 2018:

  • First Language
  • Ethnicity

These data are optional, and not required: refused, not known and not yet obtained are valid returns for schools to use in these fields.

Click here to download a sample template letter [.pdf]

For Parents and Pupils:  collection of nationality data collection from children in England has ended

If you or your child are asked to provide your country of birth and nationality data in the school census,  you may refuse for local purposes, and it must not be collected for national purposes.

All you need do is tell your school administrator that you don’t want these data recorded for your child[ren] and we recommend that you do this in writing, by filling this form below and handing it in to your school reception for their attention.

Older children can decide this for themselves however we strongly recommend this is a parent-child decision, and cannot be decided by schools as all personal data from children is classed as from ‘vulnerable persons’, and requires special attention as such. The purposes of the data might be used for, are open ended, not explained, and pupils give it up for life.

Parents should be involved in the consent decisions of their competent children unless the child specifically objects, or there are special reasons against it. Local authorities should establish a default position of involving parents in decisions about sharing their children’s sensitive data unless a competent child refuses such involvement.Nuffield [ARCH report: download Protecting the Virtual Child, Dowty, T. and Douwe, K. 2009]

To write a letter you may want to adapt this suggested text or download a simple form (link below) instructing your school to opt your child[ren] out of the nationality and country of birth data collection in the school census.

Simply click on the link below to download and print off a copy, edit and fill in your details and the details of your children (i.e. children below the age of consent – older children can choose to opt out for themselves and schools should not be asking pupils to provide data in school without parental involvement) and/or anyone for whom you hold lasting power of attorney, sign and date it, and send it to your school.

Sample suggested text to copy and edit

Request to remove school census data and object to processing:country  of birth, nationality, language proficiency and first language

[Amend and delete as appropriate] Date: ____________________

I am / as the [parent/legal guardian/carer of] ______________________________________

in ____________________________________________________________________ class,

I ask to retract personal data collected for submission in the termly school census.

I would like to retract data provided during the school admissions process.

Please retract these data items which must no longer be collected.

___  nationality

___  country-of-birth

___  language proficiency

For your further information, please refer to the latest school census guidance from the Department for Education published June 28, 2018 page 13,

In addition, please retract these data which are optional and can be refused.
For your further information, please refer to the latest school census guidance from the Department for Education published June 28, 2018 page 60, 5.3.2 and 5.3.3.

___ ethnicity

___ first language

Under Article 21 of the General Data Protection Regulation, and UK Data Protection Act 2018, 
I object to continued and further processing. Please refer to resources from the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Please ensure these data are also deleted from where you may have processed them further, and passed on, for example to the Local Authority, DfE or other third parties. Please reply to this letter to confirm that my request has been processed accordingly.

Thank you for your support.


Signature ____________________________________ Date ________________


It is important that parents are made fully aware of the purposes of these optional data, to ensure fair and legal collection by schools. A school’s statutory obligation to return data is met by returning the census data required fields containing valid data entries. Valid data entries for optional data (ethncity for example) include codes to show refused, not yet obtained, or unknown. Providing the data itself are optional.

While the latest school census guidance from the Department for Education v1.0 published June 2018, says older pupils may be asked themselves, we strongly recommend that parents / guardians, are asked and older pupils informed, whether these personal data are to be submitted to the Department for Education. Older pupils should be involved in the decision making about their own data. However, the information are stored forever, together with their name, date of birth, home address, gender, attainment, special needs and all the other data submitted through COLLECT.  It is unwise and unfair to assume children can fully understand the implications of the submission of any of their personal, confidential and identifiable data, and that once submitted, they give it up for life for what are in effect, open ended purposes. The third party users of identifiable national pupil data today include commercial use and use by journalists. There is no guarantee on how use may change in future.

Since the purposes of the expanded census collection and the new use of school census data by the Home Office since 2015 have become clear after campaign pressure and press scrutiny, the National Union of Teachers has called for this use of pupil data to end, emphasising that “schools are not part of policing immigration”.

The national subject association  for EAL, NALDIC says, they “would like to urge the Department for Education to reconsider its position urgently” “…nationality should not be conflated with EAL proficiency.  They are separate issues.”

Language proficiency codes should no longer be assigned.

See below for “what’s this all about?”.

Codes to use where no first language data are provided by parents/pupils for this new census collection:

The school must not ascribe a specific language to the pupil. Where the parent / guardian or pupil have refused to provide a first language, then code ‘REF’ (refused) must be used.

The codes ENB (Not known but believed to be English) and OTB (Not known but believed to be other than English) are only appropriate to use where all of the following conditions apply:

  • pupil’s first language is not known with absolute certainty
  • parents have not responded to enquiries
  • school is able to judge with a high degree of confidence whether the pupil’s language is English or not

Codes to use where no ethnicity data are provided by parents/pupils for this new census collection:

Ethnicity has been expanded to include nursery education so now applies to all schools and all pupils.

The school must not ascribe ethnicity to the pupil. Where the ethnicity has not yet been collected this is recorded as ‘NOBT’ (information not yet obtained). If a pupil or parent has refused to provide ethnicity, ‘REFU’ (refused) is recorded and returned. The ethnicity code set can be found on six pages of the guidance [pages 129-135]

Download a sample template letter [.pdf]

What’s this all about?

Letters leaked to the BBC reveal the purposes for which the expansion of the school census of country-of-birth and nationality and language detail are not simply what has been stated, but rather the collection was arranged as a compromise, and part of a package of measures at the request of the Home Office and Cabinet Office.

It was agreed after the Immigration Taskforce discussions in July 2015, that the “Department will gather pupil-level data on children’s country of birth, nationality and English proficiency through the school census from 2017.” The agreement was preceded by statements that the government was elected with a clear mandate “to bring down net migration”.

Since July 2015, over 2,500 requests have been made by the Home Office of the NPD at the DfE, on a monthly basis, in which the Home Office presents lists of names to the DfE, which then returns school and home address data about individuals, their date of birth and gender. As of Sept 2016, 520 of 2,462 requests had returned matched data.

The Memorandum of Understanding first made public on December 15th 2016, and related information via FOI, revealed in Schools Week  show the intent was to give pupil nationality data to the Home Office. This changed on Oct 7, 2016 (the day after the first collection of the new data) after campaign pressure from over 20 rights organisations and public scrutiny. Its purpose was in part to create a hostile environment [p14] and immigration enforcement. The previous agreement “did state that DfE would provide nationality information to the Home Office”, but that this was changed “following discussions” between the two departments.

We still have deep concerns that the country-of-birth and nationality data are not being used for educational reasons at all, but may be accessed and used by DfE algorithms for this bulk data analysis for immigration control purposes.  While the DfE says these data will “not be passed to the Home Office” they will not confirm that the data will not be used for these purposes, or used in bulk within the Department for Education, to provide the matched data to the Home Office as a result.

The House of Lords agreed a regret motion on the expansion of the collection of pupil data: that this House regrets that information about pupils’ nationality and country of birth collected under the Education (Pupil Information) (England) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2016 (Statutory Instrument 2016/808) could be used to help determine a child’s immigration status.

We believe that all the data should be under the protection of safe setting management and parents asked for consent for commercial and other third party data sharing. We believe the entire census collection process needs review.