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Schoolchildren data used in immigration controls

24/10/16

Department for Education acknowledges that information from School Census has been passed to the Home Office - but says it is not doing so as routine

Details about pupils on the national database have been used for immigration controls, it has been revealed – sparking a fresh row about schools collecting extra information.

Schoolboys in uniformUKAuthority reported last month that campaigners had urged parents to boycott new rules requiring schools to record every pupil’s country of birth.

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

At the time, the Department for Education (DfE) insisted the move was to help with understanding how “children with English as an additional language perform”. It said the data could also be used to “assess and monitor the scale and impact immigration may be having on the schools sector”.

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

Now, however, the DfE has disclosed, in response to a freedom of information request from campaign group defenddigitalme, that existing details on the pupil database have been passed to the Home Office for immigration purposes 18 times in four years. This included records of children’s schools and home addresses, which were allegedly delayed until after the new school year began.

Absconder search

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.

The DfE insisted the exchange of data was taking place only where there was “clear evidence of illegal activity”, and it would not automatically apply to everything collected.

A spokesman said: “This is the first time we are gathering data on pupil’s country of birth, nationality and English proficiency as part of national School Census. This data has not and will not be shared with the Home Office or police and there is an agreement in place to this effect.

“Where the police or Home Office have clear evidence of illegal activity or fear of harm, limited data including a pupil’s address and school details may be requested.”

But campaigners and a Labour peer seized on the disclosure to call for the questions on nationality and country of birth to be removed from the national School Census.

Gracie Mae Bradley, co-founder of the Against Borders for Children (ABC) coalition, said: “It confirms what ABC feared all along - that school administrators are being turned into border guards as part of the government’s attempts to create a hostile environment for migrants.

“There is still time to resist this divisive and risky scheme. We are urging all schools who have not yet submitted their autumn census, or collected the data for January, to put down ‘Not yet obtained’ as the default answer for all children to the country of birth and nationality questions, until they know exactly who will use this data and why.”

In the House of Lords, Labour peer Baroness McIntosh said that - regardless of whether or not the information was being used appropriately - the timing of the questions gave a “most unfortunate impression”.

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

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