Immigration information on individual pupils must now be provided to the government by schools, colleges, nurseries and childminders as part of the Early Years and Schools Census.
The Department of Education (DfE)’s policy, effective from September 2016, requires country of birth and nationality data to be collected and then permanently stored on the National Pupil Database. The Schools Census happens three times a year – the first of this academic year falling on 6 October – while the Early Years Census is held every year in January.
The change to the census, which was quickly made without undergoing parliamentary debate, is “unnecessary, divisive and puts vulnerable children at risk,” say Against Borders for Children. We share their concern that the data could be used by immigration enforcement to target individual children and families. It has been shown by campaigners that the National Pupil Database has been accessed by the Home Office 18 times between April 2012 and July 2016, and the Home Office has previously accessed thousands of NHS records in attempts to track down so-called illegal immigrants. This is all in the context of the deliberate creation of a progressively hostile environment for migrants, ongoing anti-migrant rhetoric and the very real increase in hate crime targeting migrants that is already happening in different parts of the UK. The data collection will not only identify failed asylum seekers and so-called illegal immigrants, but also EU and EEA citizens, while it is as yet unknown how Brexit negotiations will affect their right to stay.
Once the information is collected, journalists, government departments, data consultancies and other organisations will also be able to access schools’ immigration data – without parents or pupils being notified or asked for their consent. Yet, parents and pupils have been denied the right to view their own permanent records to check for accuracy.
The DfE says that the information will be used to assess and monitor the scale and impact immigration may be having on the schools sector. Schools however already collect information on children’s vulnerability, their ethnicity, and will be collecting additional data on English language ability. The DfE has refused to release the minutes of the meetings at which it decided on these changes.
It is important to note that provision of the data is not currently linked to and does not affect funding. It is however possible for parents to ‘opt out.’
Schools and nurseries are obliged to complete the census, but for country of birth and nationality they may record “Not yet known”, “Not yet obtained” or “refused”. Parents can therefore decide to not inform the school of their child’s country-of-birth and nationality. There is no legal obligation to supply this information, nor is there any obligation to bring in a child’s birth certificate or passport (the government’s own guidance states this).
Schools might not inform pupils or parents that they are going to provide this information as part of the census, as they might have already issued a standard ‘privacy notice’ upon admission to the school. If you have already given your school or nursery this information and wish to inform them that you do not want them to send it, you need to inform the school by 5 October 2016.
Against Borders for Children have launched a national boycott until the DfE reverses this policy. They have a very useful website with template letters and information about how to join the boycott.
Children have a right to feel and be safe. Children and their parents have a right to know how the information they provide to public agencies is being used, and who has access to it. The message about the risks of providing this kind of data to early years providers and schools needs to reach all parent groups, as well as PTAs, teachers and teachers’ unions – not only those who might otherwise be perceived as ‘having something to hide’. We believe it is important to stand together, regardless of nationality, to refuse to provide such sensitive data. In upholding the rights of all children in this country we can protect the rights of the most vulnerable.