Do you know where the Department for Education has sent your child’s sensitive school records?

**New September 25, 2018**

The Department for Education has opened a new access model to the National Pupil Database — based on the five safes model at the ONS.  This follows the pause put on identifying data distribution in May.

Background introduction to the National Pupil Database in England

Your personal, identifiable and sensitive data might be among the 23+ million and growing [1] pupil records taken from schools in England since 1996, named since 2002, and given out by the Department for Education from the National Pupil Database between March 2012 and April 2018. Pupil-level data have been handed out for free for re-use by a range of third-parties, including commercial organisations like data management consultancies, think tanks, and “one-man shows”, as well as other government departments, police, charities, Fleet Street and television journalists.

Data are not anonymous, but named, individual records at national level, stored forever, and never deleted. Parents and children are not asked for consent or offered any choice before the data are handed out without our permission.

The Department began adding even more sensitive data to it, from January 2018. Together with charities and leading advocates of child rights in England, we called on them to first make the existing database safe, fair and transparent. Data used badly can mean stigma and discrimination. After all, #LabelsLastaLifetime.

The National Pupil Database is “one of the richest education datasets in the world” using records from every child in state education, and some data from exam-age children from some independent schools.

defenddigitalme has campaigned to make pupil data safe since 2015. Users should come to the data, not have raw identifiable data copied and sent out, 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, including synthetic data.

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. Use of records for one thing, should not automatically mean re-use for a quite different purpose, and school records should promote children’s development to their full potential, not put them at risk of discrimination.

Our research shows that schools, children and parents don’t know this database exists. Schools are not told about the onward distribution of personal data to third parties from the National Pupil Database. This must change. The Department for Education has talked about change, since 2015 including steps to look at a privacy preserving option. But new routes must replace the old unsafe model, not simply offer another additional path to access the information.

The Department for Education must:

  • Make all pupil data safe
  • Stop giving out identifiable data to commercial third parties even after the new safe settings, without consent
  • Start telling pupils and parents what it does with their identifiable data
  • Be transparent about policy and practice

The Department of Education must hold and handle the data it has taken from citizens in ways people could reasonably expect, transparently, and with respect.

This campaign also includes a call for full transparency and accountability for pupil data across other government departments, and across the education sector in England.

See the National Pupil Database Frequently Asked Questions for more detail, or download a full briefing.

[1] updated on Feb 8th 2016 in response to a Freedom of Information request. The total number of Unique Pupil Numbers (UPNs) in the NPD as at 28/12/2015 was 19,807,973. This covers pupil records since 2000. We had previously been told 8-9 million.

[2] Higher Education data held in HESA databases dates from as far back as 1994.


On the use of personal data from the National Pupil Database

Full briefing [download Briefing.pdf 3.2 mB] updated November 20, 2017

A subset of ongoing campaign work to make all uses of national pupil data safe, fair and transparent includes opposing the Department for Education (DfE) school census expansion to collect nationality and country of birth data from every child, and any use of pupil data for non-educational purposes including immigration enforcement. We support the #BoycottSchoolCensus of nationality data collection. See our timeline of school census expansion for more details and What Can I Do to take action.

For a longer introduction to the National Pupil Database, listen to the sound cloud of a presentation given by Phil Booth and Terri Dowty in 2012.

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