2015 summary: the preparation for and purposes of nationality data collection in schools begins behind closed doors
Extremism Taskforce discussed education measures for the coming Immigration Bill. This included gathering children’s nationality and country of birth “and carrying out immigration checks through schools.” This does not become public knowledge until December 2016.
“In summer 2015, Theresa May wanted Whitehall departments to contribute to the government’s ambition to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands.
One [BBC] source says every department was to have its hands “dipped in blood”. But leaked letters reveal there was a “disquiet among our own ministers about the potential for inflammatory comparisons” by using schools as part of the immigration system, punishing the children of illegal immigrants by putting them to the bottom of the list for school places.
After discussions at a cabinet committee, Nicky Morgan, then education secretary, wrote twice to the then Prime Minister David Cameron with “profound concerns” about the Home Office’s plan.” [BBC, December 2016]
August 2015: After General Election, The Secretary of State for Education announces a review of the impact of immigration on education or ‘education tourism’. Concerns this is a reworking of 2013 plans to ‘crackdown’ on migrant families.
Nov-December 2015: The Star Chamber Scrutiny Board “approved” the change to expand the school census collection to include country-of-birth and nationality. The purpose and reason given is: “Whilst the department collects limited information on children who have moved into the English education system from abroad, the collected information is insufficient to ascertain the impact that such entrants have on the education system. The introduction of these data items will assist in the identification of such pupils and may facilitate the targeting of support to such pupils.”
[In 2017 after a year long enforcement action by the ICO of our Freedom of Information request, notes from the minutes of this meeting were released to us. We believe that Board members were not told that the DfE had already begun handing over children’s national pupil data to the Home Office for the purposes of the Hostile Environment and immigration enforcement, or that “nationality” would be included in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between DfE and the Home Office.]
December 2015: A revised Memorandum of Understanding (data sharing agreement) in place since July 2015, v1.0 is finalised on December 18, to share the individual confidential data including nationality “(once collected)” of up to 1,500 children a month from school census with the Home Office. This does not become public knowledge until December 2016, and published on whatdotheyknow in February 2017. All references to Home Office (HO) in the document refer to the work of UK Visas & Immigration, Immigration Enforcement and UK Border Agency / Border Force. The agreement signatories are from the DfE Data and Standards Analysis team, and HO Director for Interventions/Sanctions. The Border Force Removals Casework Team facilitate the data transfers. There is no public acknowledgement of this use of school census data by DfE until late October 2016. It is not known until our FOI requests are answered in August 2016, and its full extent is not known until December 2016.
2016 summary: in Spring the new data collection is announced, for a September 2016 start. The public and MPs are told it is for research purposes. The truth about sharing national pupil records with the Home Office first emerges in autumn, and the data sharing agreement is changed in late 2016 to remove nationality data from the monthly items shared.
February 29: A technical change notice includes language data expansion for all children.
May 4: The announcement of changes to the September 2016 census data collection are published “after a delay obtaining clearance”. The Department instructs schools to collect nationality among the data in the 2016-17 school year census, and many schools begin before the school summer term ends, even before the Statutory Instrument is laid on July 21st. Public understanding is that this is ‘to help understand the effects of immigration.”
June 23: Schools Week first reports the change and teacher concerns about the expansion to collect country-of-birth and nationality “immigration data” from every child age 2-19.
July 4 : FOI request for Meeting Minutes of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board where decision on census expansion was taken. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is told in September by the DfE by letter, that the board would have raised concerns before signing off had they had any. Release refused by the DfE (not released until November 2017 after appeal, shortly before withdrawing from Information Rights Tribunal).
July 6: defenddigitalme wrote to the Department raising concerns of forms failing fair processing, demanding data as required for funding, confusion, duties under the Equality Act, and that this is not in the best interests of children, but ‘to assess the education system” and concern it may be used in immigration purposes.
July 9: Schools Week reports that English as an Additional Language (EAL) professionals feel its implementation is rushed and poorly thought out “it was wrong to just “grab the [scales] from Wales, without consultation”.
July 21: defenddigitalme wrote to the Secretary of State, Minister for School Standards and constituency MP.
July 25: Nick Gibb MP, Schools Minister denies that the new data will be shared with other Government departments in a written parliamentary question 42842, when asked if the DfE consulted (a) schools and (b) parents on the new requirement to collect country of birth data in the 2016-17 school census; how parents are informed of their right to opt out of providing that information; for what purpose that information will be used; and whether that information will be shared with other Government departments. Nick Gibb replies. “The data will be collected solely for the Department’s internal use for the analytical, statistical and research purposes described above. There are currently no plans to share the data with other government departments unless we are legally required to do so. The Department have not consulted directly with parents regarding the changes to the school census.”
July 26: Nick Gibb says in another written parliamentary question 42942, “The data will be collected solely for internal Departmental use for the analytical, statistical and research purposes described above. There are currently no plans to share the data with other government Departments” when asked what limitations will be placed on disclosure of such information to (a) other government departments and (b) private third parties; and whether her Department plans to change its protocols or processes for handling and disclosure of confidential information when country of birth data begins to be collected. Nick Gibb replies. “There are currently no plans for the Department to change the existing protocols and processes for the handling and disclosure of confidential information.”
July 26: defenddigitalme wrote to the Minister for School Standards to ask how data would not be passed to other government departments following the claim made in the answer to Written Question PQ 42842.
July 27: Statutory Instrument 808/2016 laid before Parliament to expand the School Census collection via amendments to the Education (Information about Individual Pupils) (England) Regulations 2013 and the Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2005.
August 1st: In FOI request Ref: 2016-0032573 DfE reveals data sharing from the 23 million records in the National Pupil Database with the Home Office and Police: Since April 2012, but says there have only been 18 data sharing requests. The volume of Home Office requests, each time, adding up to over 2,500 individuals, will only be revealed later through FOI on October 27, 2016.
September 3: defenddigitalme raises concerns on the Statutory Instrument to the Lords secondary legislation scrutiny committee. The Government responds to the Committee.
Sept-Oct: Schools scrambled to collect data in September before the on-roll census day on October 6th. Parents shared dismay and confusion on social media. Grassroots campaign Against Borders for Children (ABC) launched by teaching staff, parents, civil society and — children’s, migrants’, and privacy — human rights’ supporters.
September 23: defenddigitalme writes to the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board to ask what they knew of the existing Home Office access when they approved country-of-birth and nationality data collection. After a prompt in November an anonymous reply is received, which addresses none of the questions.
September 23: Schools Week reports: Pupils who were not white British told to send in birthplace data: “confusion could increase fears among ethnic minority families about how the data might be used, although education leaders say they have received assurances it will not be passed to the Home Office.”
September 26: over 20 rights’ organisations under the ABC campaign umbrella write to the Secretary of State to call for the census expansion to be scrapped and urge a boycott by parents and schools of the optional collection.
September 26: Department claims in BBC report that ‘these data will not be passed to the Home Office.’
September 29: defenddigitalme and Department meeting, we are told that no data sharing agreement is yet firm or in place, and it is under discussion.
October 6: School Census on roll day. Funded schools for children 5-19 start submitting 2016-17 census data including country-of-birth and nationality for the first time, among calls from parents for “this racist policy to be scrapped.”
October 6: late afternoon, FOI Ref: 2016-0042333 confirms Home Office access to previously collected school census pupil data includes name, home and school address. Purposes of all cases within the Home Office requests “are a) dependant(s) of a parent/guardian who is suspected of an offence under section 24 or 24A of the Immigration Act 1971, or section 35 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004 has been, or is being committed (or b) the child in question is an unaccompanied minor.)” “Each Home Office request includes details of the individuals concerned as held to enable to us to search for them in the NPD.”
October 10: The Secretary-of-State Justine Greening insists in Education Questions insists that the collection is: ..”about making sure we have the right data and evidence to develop strong policy.”
October 12: Lords questions on the census expansion. The Lords government spokesman, Viscount Younger of Leckie said, “I reassure the House that the information is kept within the Department for Education and is not passed on to the Home Office.”
The government spokesperson confirms that there is no sanction for parents or schools who choose not to provide country of birth and nationality data in the census.
October 12: The Guardian reports a new data sharing agreement is “in place” with the Home Office
October 14: defenddigitalme writes to the Secretary of State, Minister for School Standards and Department to object to the use of pupils’ home address and school address divulged for deportation enforcement and absconder tracking of parents and adults through children’s data and asks to see a copy of the new datasharing agreement by end of data that will restrict Home Office use of new census data items. It is not forthcoming. Press told to use FOI.
October 18: Still in secret, version 2.1 of the original Memorandum of Understanding in place since December 18,2015 to share the individual confidential data including nationality “(once collected)” of up to 1,500 children a month from school census with the Home Office is signed off, amended from October 7, to remove reference to ‘nationality’ data. This does not become public knowledge until December, and published on whatdotheyknow in February 2017.
October 23: Against Borders for Children campaign social media Thunderclap on Twitter reaches over 1 million.
October 24: The Independent reports that Brighton and Hove City Council tell parents they can override parents and pupils’ refusal of consent to provide optional ethnicity data, and that Heads can ascribe ethnicity.
October 27: Extent of Home Office access to pupil’s home address published in PQ 48635 answered by Nick Gibb. Very first government admission at all outside of our FOIs and questions asked since May. “Between July 2015 and September 2016 […] requests relating to a total of 2,462 individuals have been made by the Home Office to DfE and 520 records have been identified within DfE data and returned to the Home Office.”
October 27: The National Union of Teachers calls for this use of pupil data by the HO to end, emphasising that “schools are not part of policing immigration”.
October 28: Lord Nash reported in Schools Week wrote new data will be kept separately due to its ‘sensitivity‘.
October 31: Home Office FOI 41221 confirms monthly access for immigration purposes. It appears that in addition to one request made in 2013 for 341 pupils, monthly access began in 2016. (see also PQ 48635 October 27)
October 31: The House of Lords agree a motion of regret. [our comment] Lords say, “this proposal has all the hallmarks of racism”, “Parents are upset, not just about how this information might be used but because these questions are asked at all,” and that “DfE denials of any ulterior motive do not sound convincing.”
November 3: Schools Week reports former Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan “had to ‘fend off ideas’ from Downing Street” including blocking plans to share the new census information and that passing on the specific data to the Home Office was “not something we would want to see.” This calls into question the Department’s transparency about its purposes of the collection.
November 3: Schools Week reports “MPs hope power of prayer will scrap pupil database changes”.
November 16: Following letter from September 26, representative of nine human rights organisations (as representatives of all signatories) meet with civil servants and Chief Data Officer at the DfE.
November 17: The Independent reports “Government scraps plans for controversial nationality census for 2-5 year-olds.”
November 24: Right to retract data from autumn census. Lord Nash confirms that if parents have previously provided this information to schools and now wish to retract it, they should inform the school of this decision and the Department will remove any information collected on country of birth and nationality during the autumn census.
November 28: the UK Statistics Authority urges the Department for Education to set out plans for ongoing review saying that maintaining public trust is essential, requiring an ongoing commitment to communications and transparency including “clear communication of purpose”
December 1: The BBC reports Theresa May had plan to ‘deprioritise’ illegal migrant pupils and Laura Kuenssberg tweets that Cabinet Office letters reveal collection of country-of-birth was agreed as part of this policy compromise:
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) December 1, 2016
December 15: The Department for Education released the Memorandum of Understanding with details of the agreement between the DfE and Home Office, via FOI. It reveals the intent was to give pupil nationality data to the Home Office. The original version in place between 2015 and October 14, 2016, would share “(once collected) nationality” (15.2.6). This had been backdated and amended effective Oct 7, 2016 (the day after the first collection of the new data) apparently after campaign pressure, from over 20 rights organisations and press scrutiny.
The question remains unanswered whether this new census nationality data may be used for Home Office purposes within the DfE, even if the nationality data itself is no longer to be exchanged. Country-of-birth, language and nationality data could be accessed and used by the Department for Education search algorithms for this bulk data analysis for immigration purposes and the results providing a higher matched rate of data to the Home Office as a result, and the MOU would still hold true.
2017 summary: the true intentions of data sharing and the ongoing monthly agreement are public, but not explained to schools. Despite this, mistrust means over 25% of schools and families do not return, or refuse to provide nationality. Monthly handovers of pupil data for the purposes of the Hostile Environment continue.
January 10: The Department for Education released updated guidance on the school census to schools with one week notice before the Spring census on roll date. By now, most schools have already collected the required data since the announcement in May 2016.
January 12: After the DfE had seemed unwilling since November to communicate the changes to schools, the campaign coalition under Against Borders for Children supported by Liberty writes to every school in England to tell them about the intent of the expanded census and encourage them to tell parents and pupils of their rights to refuse and retract data.
January 19: Spring census collects nationality and country of birth data for the second time, and ethnicity data from 2-5 year olds for the first time in the Early Years census.
February: The DfE declines to provide the numbers about nationality and country-of-birth data collected in the autumn census in response to parliamentary question 62925 citing future plans to publish it.
April: The NUT conference supports motions opposing nationality and country of birth collection and calling for more information to be given to schools and parents.
May 18: Summer School Census on roll day. Nationality and country-of-birth collected by DfE for third time.
May 18: The Information Commissioner’s Office issues a Decision Notice on FOI in favour of the release of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board (SCSB) meeting minutes from November 2015. Parliament had been told in July 2016 the SCSB, “approved the collection of country of birth data via the school census in November 2015.” The Government response in a letter to concerns raised at the Secondary Legislation scrutiny committee on the SI 808/2016 also stated, “Should there have been concerns regarding these changes, SCSB would have raised these for discussion requesting clarification or amendment before providing their formal decision to accept or reject the changes.” Our questions and letters remain unanswered whether the Board knew when they made the decision on the school census expansion, that pupil data was already being passed on a monthly basis to the Home Office and that “Nationality (once collected)” would be given to the Border Force Removals Casework Team as per the HO-DfE agreement in place between July 2015 and October 2016.
May 23: Ongoing monthly releases of pupil data to the Home Office Border Force Removals Casework Team continue, and the DfE releases the Q1 numbers via FOI. The DfE decline to provide the audit report to show if and how nationality data is being used.
June 13: DfE appealed the Information Commissioner Office decision on the Freedom of Information Request for the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board (SCSB) 2015 meeting minutes. At a November 2015 meeting the SCSB signed off the collection of nationality and country of birth. We believe they did not know nationality data “Once collected” was intended to pass to the Home Office for immigration enforcement or that an agreement was already in place, handing over pupil data on a monthly basis. This board meeting was what Parliament was told had scrutinised the decision and had they had any concerns, they would have been raised. A hearing will be held on November 13, 2017 at the First Tier Tribunal on information rights, in case EA/2017/0122. (Conclusion October 6: One day after the autumn school census, the Department withdrew their appeal. At the time of writing, it has 28 days to provide the disputed information.)
October 5: Sky News, a spokesperson confirms the Department of Education has become a Department for Deportation. “The Department for Education confirmed to Sky News that information about “illegal migrants” was obtained from the National Pupil Database and used to contact families to “regularise their stay or remove them”.”
This is not what schools are told, how pupil data are used which the schools collect from parents and pupils in trust, and with a duty to tell them fairly what purposes personal data may be used for. The DfE revised privacy notice template for schools, published on October 5, also fails to tell them explicitly that individual and identifying data are given to commercial companies, press, charities, think tanks and a range of information intermediaries, as well as researchers, without consent.
October 5: The DfE declines the Freedom of Information request to publish how governor data are used, how the pupil nationality data since collected are being used, or release the live data sharing Memorandum of Understanding.
October 10: The House of Lords debate the Data Protection Bill second reading.
Lord Lucas questioned new powers, “Paragraph 4 of Schedule 2, on immigration, takes away rights immigrants have at the moment under the Data Protection Act. Why? What is going on?” https://goo.gl/FUzaBo
October 13: DfE withdraws its appeal at the First Tier Information Rights Tribunal. Sends a letter [download .pdf 66.7 kB] to accompany the release of some of the disputed materials from the FOI of July 4, 2016 [download .pdf 288 KB] to request the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board Minutes of November 2015. The minutes reveal little, and there is no recorded discussion or questions about the purposes of the collection of nationality data.
October 25: Government response to questions from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC) about the purposes of the SI 808/2016 [response .pdf 424 kB] The DfE final remark (Point 15) confirms the Star Chamber were not told about Home office use of school census data that began in 2015, when they signed off the future nationality data collection in November 2015, or of the agreement which was ‘updated with new purposes’ on November 27, 2015 and included in 15.2.6 “(Once collected) Nationality”. This is significant when Ministers relied on the assurance that the Star Chamber had approved the expansion and had raised no concern. [See PQs of July 2016, and the assurance given to the SLSC by the DfE in September 2016 [response .pdf 707kB].]
November 22: Against Borders for Children (Schools ABC) launch a crowdfunder to take legal action with the support of Liberty. They campaign to end the Department for Education’s policy to collect country of birth and nationality information on 8 million children in England every year, and the use of all school census data in immigration enforcement and its strategic aim to ‘create a hostile environment’ for migrant children in schools.
November 27: a ministerial correction (HCWS272) made by Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Standards, on the numbers of pupils data released to the Home Office and police. “Information supplied by the Data Modernisation Division of the DfE has been identified as containing incorrect facts in the response provided to Parliamentary Questions concerning the volume of children’s records passed onto the police and the Home Office (PQ48634, PQ48635 and PQ52645) and in figures quoted during a House of Lords Debate on the 31 of October 2016 on the Education (Pupil Information) (England) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2016. “
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.
- 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
The data quality is clearly very poor, with over a quarter not providing nationality, and a significant active refusal rate. The not yet obtained rate is also highly significant, despite Local Authorities and schools being chased by the Department and Schools Information Management System providers, to make sure they returned data or refused, and cut down the not yet obtained rate.
2018 summary: The government passes a new exemption from Data protection Rights in the 2018 Act, for its own purposes of processing data for immigration enforcement, and explicitly refers to using it for school children’s records. The collection of nationality ends. Monthly sharing of pupil data such including home and school address, continues.
Victoria Atkins MP at Committee Stage in the Data Protection Bill debate, says of new immigration exemption clause that it will be used with national pupil data, “There may be occasions when there is a person we have lost track of whose status is irregular. If we know they have a child, we will seek from the Department for Education assistance to find the whereabouts of the child. That child has not committed a criminal offence, so I would be very concerned to ensure that the Home Office, Border Force or whoever else acted lawfully when seeking that data in order to enable them to find the parent or whoever is the responsible adult, as part of the immigration system.” [Hansard, Col 72]
April 9: Schools Week reports, DfE ends divisive pupil nationality data collection “Schools will no longer be forced to collect data on their pupils’ nationality and country of birth following a major U-turn by the government, Schools Week can exclusively reveal. The Department for Education is expected to write to schools in the coming weeks to outline its plans to remove the controversial categories from the school census. It means schools will no longer have to ask parents and pupils for the sensitive information as part of the census, which takes place three times a year.”
June 28: Nationality and Country-of-Birth and Language Proficiency (items under SI 808/2016) must no longer be collected for school census purposes, with immediate effect. This is confirmed by the Department for Education update to school census guidance 2018-19.
September 2018: FOI reveals the making of the original data sharing agreements, which would eventually include, “(Once Collected) Nationality”. This includes comments that show the bulk datasharing agreement would be unlawful, since the purposes were not educational, and therefore outside the remit of the legislation which permitted the data collection under section 537A of the Education act 1996. [ref p5 of 16, version 0.2].
September 21: Delete pupil nationality data or face legal action, campaigners warn ministers More than 20 human rights and privacy campaign groups have signed a letter to Damian Hinds, the education secretary, urging him to destroy the information collected under controversial changes to the school census, introduced in 2016.
October 15 2018: DfE refuses, in written response.
November: Together with Against Borders for Children, we wrote to every MP and some members of the House of Lords to explain that children’s data are still being shared for the purposes of the Hostile Environment, and to ask for support of the three point plan.
December 19: Minister confirms in PQ 201097 that school census data are used in immigration enforcement.
And says that families no longer have any available process to retract nationality data submitted to the Department between October 2016 and June 2018. “The last opportunity for parents to retract this information was via the last collection in summer 2018.” Schools and families have not been informed. [PQ 20201096]
Against Borders for Children, supported by Liberty, submitted its next stage of formal complaint to the Office of the Information Commissioner to ask for school children’s nationaliy data to be deleted and enforcement action, as well as regulation to be enforced.
2019: Monthly handovers of pupil data for the purposes of the Hostile Environment continue. Complaints to the Information Commissioner asking for enforcement have been made.
No other related policy changes have been announced in the 2018-19 Guidance for schools.
Since 2016, Campaigners received emails and social media messages of parents with children, or directly from teens who feel harassed, discriminated against, embarrassed in front of peer groups. This data collection has changed pupils’ and family relationships with school staff and influenced young people’s perceptions of each other and authority.
The ABC campaign collate parents and pupils’ reactions and samples of forms shared. The majority of paper forms did not explain that the submission is optional or that parents can indicate ‘Refused’ or ‘Not Yet Obtained’. Text messages seen didn’t go into any explanations at all. The majority of schools incorrectly informed parents it was data ‘required’ and for funding. Schools worry they will be sanctioned and assumed it was necessary. Some local authority administrators chased schools with high ‘not yet obtained’ or ‘refused’ rates to return country values, despite the data being optional, and appears to be driven by local, misinformed pressure. Parents who had concerns but did not know it was optional, took to social media asking each other what to do. Even celebrities felt helpless. defenddigitalme has raised the most serious concerns to the Information Commissioner’s Office on a rolling basis.
Parents at a school in London have asked on October 17th, what they could do if the school wished to withdraw its entire country-of-birth and nationality school census data submission, as they didn’t feel parents had made informed decisions to provide their personal data. Parents and pupils were told they could ask individually for data submitted to be withdrawn, by providing an updated return ahead of the termly census deadline. This was communicated to schools on January 11, 2017, a week before the Spring census collection. DfE guidance on school census and refusal of these optional data, was in the August 2017-18 School Census guidance and was included in section 5.3 of the school census guidance v1.6 from April 2017.
For complete older background and details, download our 2017 briefing. [last updated on March 6, 2017.]