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DfE retreats on ‘border force’ data for nursery schools

21/11/16

Officials indicate that details of early years children on national pupil database will not include nationality

The collection of nationality data about England’s youngest children is to be scrapped after growing protests that education staff are being used as a “border force”.

Wall in nursery school, alphabet with picturesThe Department for Education (DfE) will no longer require nursery schools to record the country of birth and nationality of every child for the national pupil database, in what campaigners hailed as a significant climbdown.

Following a meeting with the campaign group Schools Against Borders for Children (ABC), DfE officials said the policy would not be extended to nurseries as planned.

UKAuthority reported last month that parents were being urged to boycott the new rules requiring schools to collect the details.

Led by the human rights group Liberty, critics argued the data could be made available to immigration officials, in effect turning school administrators into “border guards”.

Home Office connection

The controversy grew when the DfE admitted that existing details on the database had been passed to the Home Office for immigration purposes 18 times in four years. It disclosed in responses to freedom of information requests from campaign ground defenddigitalme that records of children’s schools and home addresses were supplied.

The data was passed on to help the Home Office’s absconder tracing team look for parents who had disappeared after being told they faced deportation, or to find unaccompanied child asylum seekers who have gone missing.

Initially, ministers stood firm on the data collection during a debate in the House of Lords, in which Liberal Democrat education spokesman Lord Storey claimed the policy bore “all the hallmarks of racism”.

But it is understood that Education Secretary Justine Greening disagreed with her predecessor, Nicky Morgan, who had wished to include children under five.

Schools Against Borders coordinator, Gracie Mae Bradley, said: “This is a brilliant outcome for all of the children, teachers and parents who have been in touch with the ABC campaign to express their dismay at the Government's divisive attempts to draw up lists of foreign children.”

But she added: “This U-turn raises serious questions about why nationality or country of birth data should be collected about any child at all - especially if its security can't be guaranteed.

“Why persist with this damaging idea that it's OK to label older pupils as migrants first and children second?”

Opposition calls

The call was echoed by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, with Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner saying: “This is welcome news, our hope is that they extend it across the board.”

 A DfE spokesman said: “At this time, we see no need to extend the collection of data on nationality or country of birth to the Early Years census.”

However, defending the policy for older pupils, he added: “Gathering data on nationality and country of birth through the School Census will help ensure our children receive the best possible education and support.

“It will help us understand the scale and impact of migration on the education sector.

Image by Wiki-uk (own work), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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