News / National Pupil Database pupil privacy surveillance

Home Office and Police have accessed data from the National Pupil Database

Schools Minister Nick Gibb wrote in late July in response to a Parliamentary question (42842), the school census expansion purposes are for the Department’s internal use for analytical, statistical and research purposes and to improve the “understanding of the scale and impact of pupil migration on the education sector” and said that there are “currently no plans to share the data with other government departments unless we are legally required to do so”.

He failed to say they already shared pupils’ data with other government departments and had done so since July 2015, a full year earlier.

He wrote that, “data collections are reviewed by the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board (SCSB). The SCSB is an external panel of representatives from schools and local authorities who approved the collection of country of birth data via the school census in November 2015.”

We are still waiting to find out from that Board if they knew when they approved the change, that up to 1,500 individuals’ named data was already being given to the Home Office on a monthly basis,  and that nationality data, “once collected” [15.2.6] would also be given to the HO Removals Casework Team for immigration enforcement purposes. Three written requests asking the Board and the Department remain unanswered. The Board minutes requested via Freedom-of-Information have been refused. If they did not know, and approved the change, were they misled? Did they ask the question who would access the new data?

A Freedom-of-Information request shows data have been given to the Home Office from the National Pupil Database on 18 occasions since 2012, and the Police have submitted 31 requests for information to the National Pupil Database. All were granted, and 21 resulted in information being supplied. [Updated: The volume of individual’s data in each request became available after further questions were asked.  Each request can be for up to 1,500 pupils. Data supplied is for hundreds of pupils per request on a monthly basis to the Removals Casework Team. The MOU is explicit about the children’s data being used to find adult relations as well, and for ‘removal from the UK’ purposes]

So what type of data has the Home Office been given? Releases from the National Pupil Database are not simply statistics, but can include named data on individual children and identifiable data are already released to a wide range of third parties.

Is the National Pupil Database becoming de facto a national identity register for the Home Office, police and others, to dip into at will for unclear purposes? Their use would not meet the expected purposes for which parents and children give their personal confidential data to schools. Are they aligned with the second Data Protection Act principle that requires personal data must be “collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a way incompatible with those purposes”? This will likely mean the research exemptions the national pupil database enjoys will no longer be valid. That means data may not be held indefinitely.

Since the stated purpose for these new 2016-17 school census and early years census data items is for an ‘immigration review’ in schools and given that data have already been given to the Home Office, parental and school staff concerns and scepticism seem justified about the exact purpose of the expanded collection and why data are needed on individual, named children.

Parents and pupils are asking who will access the newly expanded pupil data, including country-of-birth, that will be collected from most school children aged 2-19 in England from the 2016-17 census. This must be made clear to them when data are requested and collected, but our research from 2015 shows this process fails today.

Forms we have seen asking for exclusively country of birth data, for this census expansion, often fail to mention purposes, get them wrong suggesting it is required data for school funding, or demand that a passport is brought into school with no indication of who will use the data beyond ‘the Department for Education’.

2013 plans to restrict immigrant children from immigration were reportedly vetoed, but Nicky Morgan introduced the concept of ‘education tourism’ in 2015. There are concerns that plans may be reintroduced in future to restrict children from immigrant families receiving school access on arrival. Further concerns include that families may be sought out via data collected in schools, and we will see more of the harm done to children separated from family members after the changes in annual income requirement affecting residency status.

We are concerned data is already being used without transparency for unclear purposes and is open to misuse by using data without consent or any independent oversight. How will the Schools Minister prevent onward sharing, handing country-of-birth data in bulk to the Home Office, or as is done today handed out to any other recipient receiving National Pupil Database pupil data at individual identifiable level?

Since 2012 these individual data have been given to commercial companies, charities and journalists as well as being used in bona fide public interest research in 652+ releases. Those releases have been published in the third party release register.

The police and Home Office uses have not been documented in the list. We have previously identified Cabinet Office use that was also missing from the register.

Is the register otherwise complete or is there more we are not being told?