UKA correspondentTuesday 27 September 2016

Row blows up over schoolchildren's birth data

Requirement for new details on national pupil database stirs claims of potential data sharing for immigration controls

New rules requiring schools to collect details of every pupil’s country of birth, for addition to the national pupil database, have sparked a furious row about data privacy.

School uniformsMore than 20 organisations and individuals, including the human rights group Liberty, have urged parents to boycott the move, introduced for the new school year.

They fear the information could be made available to immigration officials, in effect turning school administrators into “border guards”.

A joint letter states “Our grave concern is that the new data collected will be shared with the Home Office and therefore potentially used for immigration enforcement purposes.

“We have already seen data sharing between the Home Office and other departments increase since the Government announced its commitment to creating a 'hostile environment' for undocumented migrants.

“Such measures deter vulnerable children and families from accessing essential services, exercising their human rights, and participating on an equal basis.”

Census expansion

The row follows the decision to expand the school census, “in line with the national population census”, the Department for Education (DfE) told schools last May.

Disclosure of country-of-birth details is not compulsory, but a report by the online magazine Schools Week found that many schools were demanding copies of pupils' passports.

Gracie Mae Bradley, from Against Borders for Children, which is leading the campaign, described it as “risky and unnecessary”.

She said: “School should be a place where all children are treated equally.

“In the context of a 'hostile environment' in which employers, landlords and even healthcare workers are being turned into border guards, we believe this new requirement could be used to add school administrators to the list.

“We are deeply concerned that this data will be made available, without time limit, much more widely outside the schools system, which cannot be acceptable.”

Performance issues

But a DfE spokesperson said: “This data will be used to help us better understand how children with, for example, English as an additional language, perform in terms of their broader education, and to assess and monitor the scale and impact immigration may be having on the schools sector.

“Data on pupils' country of birth, nationality and level of English proficiency is collected through the school census in line with the national population census.

“These data items will not be passed to the Home Office. They are solely for internal Department for Education use.”

Image by mattbuck, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons