News / National Pupil Database pupil privacy

The new school census law needs scrapped

Yesterday’s article in the Guardian #BoycottSchoolCensus: why parents are refusing to reveal their child’s nationality raises another important point, that of changing technology and future scope of use: ‘It doesn’t currently have the capacity, though it could perhaps in the future.”

The new census law needs scrapped if it cannot be amended

Unless all uses and limitations are on a statutory footing, we are calling for the new school census expansion law to be scrapped, that was snuck through in the six week parliamentary summer holiday without scrutiny before it came into effect on September 1st.

The Department for Education (DfE) has responded (1) to the Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee regards our letter (2) with questions on the change of law.

Ignores Home Office access

Most significantly the DfE response completely ignores one of the key concerns about the collection of nationality and country-of-birth, that the Home Office has had access to the National Pupil

Database since 2012. In the final comment (6) on page 5 the DfE refers only to the unpublished police access.

It may have been seen as routine, just another departmental data expansion, but these collect-it-all steps towards building ever bigger national databases that disclose personal data without consent to a wide range of third parties, are not routine to the public.

790 of identifiable releases without consent is hardly ‘a small number.’ (Full details here)

And don’t forget, it is not small data either. We’re talking about 20+ million records going all the way back to 2000 whose access has been changed incrementally over time by all governments. The uses of data collected in the past need realigned with current technology and future risks foreseen by technologists and activists specialising in these areas.

Protecting parental and children’s trust is now paramount. The policy intent needs closely examined. And safeguards need written into the legislation that all the data collected in education are only to be used for the purposes parents expect and have properly explained. Parents entrust their children’s and their own personal data to schools. Don’t exploit it.

Do the statutory limitations of purpose ensure ‘no surprises’?

Nick Gibb said in Parliament in response to a Parliamentary Question in July that, “There are currently no plans for the Department to change the existing protocols and processes for the handling and disclosure of confidential information.”

The assurances given by the Department for Education to the BBC that the new data collected in the school census will not be passed to the Home Office are therefore worthless when we know some has been used by the Home Office for immigration enforcement among other purposes, and by the police already. It’s a shattering breach of parental trust in schools by government.

With the Digital Economy Bill just round the corner, it seems there is good chance that many other government departments could get a bulk copy of this entire database in future.

Without transparency of these to-date secret access and uses, how will the public and parliament know for what purposes the whole country’s children are being snooped on and data shared and with whom? Who will keep track where to know what slips through the net?

The Digital Economy will define permitted uses for ‘public benefit’ and ‘research’ uses. As Chi Onwurah said most sensibly on the September 23, “benefit will be decided without proper public scrutiny—indeed, without any debate.”

Parliament must think carefully: do you want to promote more of these secret uses of all our, including your own, and your children’s personal confidential data in perpetuity without oversight or accountability like pupil data has been used so far? Or do they need safeguards to ensure what the public thinks of as bona-fide research is just that?

These are children’s confidential data given in trust. Not for general use by the state for all intents and purposes. Certainly not for commercial use.

Data uses in secret and riding roughshod over all our children’s consent damages pupil-teacher trust, may harm public interest research, and risks being perceived as replacing our common values of simply ‘doing the right-thing’, with the whims of a tyrant state.


We did a review of the latest numbers and types of data disclosed from the National Pupil Database (NPD). We decided to post this second half separately from the release numbers in part one of this blog. [amended at 14.15, October 9 2016]