News / National Pupil Database pupil privacy

Pupil data collection turns Kafkaesque in 2016-17 school and early years census

Changes that come into effect in the 2016-17 school census and early years census demand more personal data, including country of birth, nationality and ethnicity, from every schoolchild age 2-19 be extracted to the National Pupil Database. [Read and download our summary.]

In response we were told by teaching staff of their additional concerns that the collection would raise, about how to meet their duties under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, the Public Sector

Equality Duty (PSED), requiring public authorities to have due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited in the 2010 Act;
  • advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;
  • and foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.

We have updated our overview and we have sent questions to the Department to ask what assessment has been made of the impact of these changes on privacy (for pupils and families), and on meeting these duties (for school staff) to address concerns and practical implications resulting from the changes. Concerns include:

Barriers in enrolment may develop for vulnerable children, for example from families or lone children (asylum seekers) without either forms of documentation

Discrimination may develop in-practice if schools start asking for birth certificates and passports for some groups of pupils (overseas or minority ethnic groups) not routinely requested for others to collect nationality and ensure this matches “which country issued the pupil’s passport.

Due diligence: Has the Department for Education completed a Privacy Impact Assessment or assessed the impact of policies and practices under the Public Sector Equality Duty?

Fundamental rights and entitlements to education may be undermined through this increased risk of discriminatory behaviour by schools, whether through bureaucratic delay or intent.

Teachers and parents are concerned whether the “best interests of the system” and political policy are being placed above the interests of the child. Questions include: “Are we being asked to act as border police? Apart from the difficulties involved in collating such data, is this legal?”

Trust may be undermined at the very start of the admissions and induction process. Families might not be clear why passports, for example, are being requested and whether information about nationality and national origins would be shared with other agencies.

Undocumented families or those in migration situations will be adversely affected which may not be in the best interests of the child. Some families might already avoid state agencies but trust schools and would want their children to have an education which will be undermined.

The given aim of the changes is:
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.

There are no published plans of what this might be, or why it is necessary and proprtionate to gather country of birth from every child in order to deliver an absent measure, despite the data collection being planned since autumn 2014 or 2015 – the conflicting dates on the change notice make it hard to tell.

As reported in the The Telegraph in August 2015, Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, had previously ordered officials to investigate how much of a “pull factor” state schools are for immigrants with families who decide to move to the UK, in so called “education tourism”.

“Until now government efforts to make Britain less attractive to migrants have focused on tackling so-called “health tourism” and “benefits tourism”. The government has cut welfare entitlements for migrants from the European Union and made plans to ensure immigrants from outside Europe pay for their NHS treatment.

“Mrs Morgan’s action comes as the Home Office draws up plans to limit the number of foreign students who come to study at British universities, in an attempt to meet the Conservative government’s goal of reducing net migration to the “tens of thousands” per year.”

‘Health tourism’ costs versus collection are tiny [FullFact: according to the government’s own calculations, overseas visitors currently account for about 0.1% of total NHS expenditure] and result in a hopeless bureaucratic nightmare worthy of Kafka.

The overall scope and size of pupil data collection is increasingly detailed, invasive and lacks transparency as parents are still denied access to request a copy of the data stored on their own child in the National Pupil Database. The latest common basic data set (CBDS) for use by suppliers developing management information systems is vast. [version May 18, 2016].

This is in addition to the school lifetime data collected on attainment and in-school records generated. And don’t forget: all these data are released from the National Pupil Database to third parties, journalists, commercial business and charities, as well as bona fide public interest researchers.

Assessing “the impact on the system” could be done in other less potentially discriminatory ways. All pupils’ privacy is not a necessary or proprtionate cost worth paying for plans that seem to be designed to meet a short term political objective. The risks of this increasingly invasive collection are borne by families and schools with long term implications, without clear benefits to the child from whom yet more personal data are being stored in the National pupil Database.