News / National Pupil Database

Timeline: the school census national pupil data expansion 2016-17


August 2015: Nicky Morgan announces a review of the impact of immigration on education or ‘education tourism’. Concerns in some quarters that this is a reworking of 2013 plans to ‘crackdown’ on migrant families.

Nov-December 2015: The Star Chamber Scrutiny Board signs off the change for country-of-birth and nationality. The purpose and reason given is: “Whilst the department collects limited information on children who have moved into the English education system from abroad, the collected information is insufficient 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.”

December 2015: FOI request to ascertain the size of the NPD. The total number of Unique Pupil Numbers (UPNs) in the NPD as at 28/12/2015 was 19,807,973. (ca. 20 million).
 This has pupil records since 1996 so many people in the database are now adults, who have never been told their personal data is given to third parties without consent.


February 29: A later technical change notice includes language data expansion for all children.

May 4: The announcement was published “after a delay obtaining clearance”. The Department instructs schools to collect the data for the 2016-17 school year census, and many schools begin before the school summer term ends, even before the Statutory Instrument is laid on July 21st.

June 23: Schools Week first reports the change and teacher concerns about the expansion to collect country-of-birth and nationality “immigration data” from every child age 2-19.

July 4 : FOI request for Meeting Minutes of the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board where decision on census expansion was taken. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is told in September by the DfE by letter, that the board would have raised concerns before signing off had they had any. Release refused by the DfE (Now in ICO review).

July 6: defenddigitalme wrote to the Department raising concerns of forms failing fair processing, demanding data as required for funding, confusion, duties under the Equality Act, and that this is not in the best interests of children, but ‘to assess the education system” and concern it may be used in immigration purposes.

July 9: Schools Week reports that English as an Additional Language (EAL) professionals feel its implementation is rushed and poorly thought out “it was wrong to just “grab the [scales] from Wales, without consultation”.

July 21: defenddigitalme wrote to the Secretary of State, Minister for School Standards and constituency MP.

July 25: Written parliamentary reply to question 42842, asked if the DfE consulted (a) schools and (b) parents on the new requirement to collect country of birth data in the 2016-17 school census; how parents are informed of their right to opt out of providing that information; for what purpose that information will be used; whether that information will be shared with other

Government departments. Nick Gibb replies. “The data will be collected solely for the Department’s internal use for the analytical, statistical and research purposes described above. There are currently no plans to share the data with other government departments unless we are legally required to do so. The Department have not consulted directly with parents regarding the changes to the school census.”

July 26: Written parliamentary reply to question 42942, asked what limitations will be placed on disclosure of such information to (a) other government departments and (b) private third parties; and whether her Department plans to change its protocols or processes for handling and disclosure of confidential information when country of birth data begins to be collected.  Nick Gibb replies.

There are currently no plans for the Department to change the existing protocols and processes for the handling and disclosure of confidential information.”

July 26: defenddigitalme wrote to the Minister for School Standards to ask how data would not be passed to other government departments following the claim made in the answer to Written Question PQ 42842.

July 27: Statutory Instrument 808/2016 laid before Parliament to expand the School Census collection via amendments to the Education (Information about Individual Pupils) (England) Regulations 2013 and the Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2005.

August 1st: In FOI request Ref: 2016-0032573 DfE reveals data sharing from the National Pupil Database data with the Home Office and Police: Since April 2012, the Police have submitted 31 requests for information to the National Pupil Database. All were granted, only 21 resulted in information being supplied. Since April 2012, the Home Office submitted 20 requests to the National Pupil Database. Of these 18 were granted. 2 were refused as the NPD did not contain it. (Note: The volume of Home Office requests, for over 2,500 individuals, will only be revealed on October 27, 2016).

September 3: defenddigitalme raises concerns on the Statutory Instrument to the Lords secondary legislation scrutiny committee. The Government responds to the Committee.

Sept-Oct: Schools scrambled to collect data in September before the on-roll census day on October 6th.
Parents shared dismay and confusion on social media. Grassroots campaign Against Borders for Children (ABC) launched by teaching staff, parents, civil society and — children’s, migrants’, and privacy — human rights’ supporters.

September 23: defenddigitalme writes to the Star Chamber Scrutiny Board to ask what they knew of the existing Home Office access when they approved country-of-birth and nationality data collection. After a prompt in November an anonymous reply is received, which addresses none of the questions.

September 23: Schools Week reports: Pupils who were not white British told to send in birthplace data: “confusion could increase fears among ethnic minority families about how the data might be used, although education leaders say they have received assurances it will not be passed to the Home Office.”

September 26: over 20 rights’ organisations under the ABC campaign umbrella write to the Secretary of State to call for the census expansion to be scrapped and urge a boycott by parents and schools of the optional collection.

September 26: Department claims in BBC report that ‘these data will not be passed to the Home Office.’

September 29: defenddigitalme and Department meeting, no data sharing agreement is yet firm or in place.

October 6: School Census on roll day. Funded schools for children 5-19 start submitting 2016-17 census data including country-of-birth and nationality for the first time, among calls from parents for “this racist policy to be scrapped.”

October 6: late afternoon, FOI Ref: 2016-0042333 confirms Home Office access to previously collected school census pupil data includes name, home and school address. Purposes of all cases within the Home Office requests “are a) dependant(s) of a parent/guardian who is suspected of an offence under section 24 or 24A of the Immigration Act 1971, or section 35 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004 has been, or is being committed (or b) the child in question is an unaccompanied minor.)” “Each Home Office request includes details of the individuals concerned as held to enable to us to search for them in the NPD.”

October 10: The Secretary-of-State Justine Greening insists in Education Questions insists that the collection is: ..”about making sure we have the right data and evidence to develop strong policy.”

October 12: Lords questions on the census expansion. The Lords government spokesman, Viscount Younger of Leckie said, “I reassure the House that the information is kept within the Department for Education and is not passed on to the Home Office.”

The government spokesperson confirms that there is no sanction for parents or schools who choose not to provide country of birth and nationality data in the census.

October 12: The Guardian reports a new data sharing agreement is “in place” with the Home Office

October 14: defenddigitalme writes to the Secretary of State, Minister for School Standards and Department to object to the use of pupils’ home address and school address divulged for deportation enforcement and absconder tracking of parents and adults through children’s data and asks to see a copy of the new datasharing agreement by end of data that will restrict Home Office use of new census data items. It is not forthcoming. Press told to use FOI.

October 23: Against Borders for Children campaign social media Thunderclap on Twitter reaches over 1 million.

October 24: The Independent reports that Brighton and Hove City Council tell parents they can override parents and pupils’ refusal of consent to provide optional ethnicity data, and that Heads can ascribe ethnicity.

October 27: Extent of Home Office access to pupil’s home address published in PQ 48635 answered by Nick Gibb. Very first government admission at all outside of our FOIs and questions asked since May. “Between July 2015 and September 2016 […] requests relating to a total of 2,462 individuals have been made by the Home Office to DfE and 520 records have been identified within DfE data and returned to the Home Office.”

October 27: The National Union of Teachers calls for this use of pupil data by the HO to end, emphasising that “schools are not part of policing immigration”.

October 28: Lord Nash reported in Schools Week wrote new data will be kept separately due to its ‘sensitivity‘.

October 31: Home Office FOI 41221 confirms monthly access for immigration purposes. It appears that in addition to one request made in 2013 for 341 pupils, monthly access began in 2016. (see also PQ 48635 October 27)

October 31: The House of Lords agree a motion of regret. [our comment] Lords say, “this proposal has all the hallmarks of racism”, “Parents are upset, not just about how this information might be used but because these questions are asked at all,” and that “DfE denials of any ulterior motive do not sound convincing.”

November 3: Schools Week reports former Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan “had to ‘fend off ideas’ from Downing Street” including blocking plans to share the new census information and that passing on the specific data to the Home Office was “not something we would want to see.” This calls into question the Department’s tranparency about its purposes of the collection.

November 3: Schools Week reports “MPs hope power of prayer will scrap pupil database changes”.

November 17: The Independent reports “Government scraps plans for controversial nationality census for 2-5 year-olds.”

November 24: Right to retract data from autumn census.  Lord Nash confirms that if parents have previously provided this information to schools and now wish to retract it, they should inform the school of this decision and the Department will remove any information collected on country of birth and nationality during the autumn census.

November 28: the UK Statistics Authority  urges the Department for Education to set out plans for ongoing review saying that maintaining public trust is essential, requiring an ongoing commitment to communications and transparency including “clear communication of purpose”

December 1: The BBC reports  Theresa May had plan to ‘deprioritise’ illegal migrant pupils and Laura Kuenssberg tweets that letters reveal collection of country-of-birth was agreed as part of this policy compromise:

December 15: The Department for Education released the Memorandum of Understanding with details of the agreement between the DfE and Home Office, via FOI. It reveals the intent was to give pupil nationality data to the Home Office. This changed on Oct 7, 2016 (the day after the first collection of the new data) after campaign pressure from over 20 rights organisations and press scrutiny.
The question remains unanswered whether this new census nationality data may be used for Home Office purposes within the DfE, even if the nationality data itself is no longer to be exchanged. Country-of-birth, language and nationality data could be accessed and used by the Department for Education search algorithms for this bulk data analysis for immigration purposes and the results providing a higher matched rate of data to the Home Office as a result, and the MOU would still hold true.

January 10, 2017: The Department for Education released updated Guidance on the school census to schools with one week notice before the Spring census on roll date. By now, most schools have already collected the required data since the announcement in May 2016. Will all parents and pupils be offered the opportunity to retract these data and schools effect it, in 7 working days?

Future: January 19, 2017, Spring School Census on roll day.

Campaigners continue to receive emails and social media messages of parents with children, or directly from teens who feel harassed, discriminated against, embarrassed in front of peer groups. It is changing pupils’ and family relationships with school staff and influencing young people’s perceptions forever.

The ABC campaign collate parents and pupils’ reactions and samples of forms shared. The majority of paper forms do not explain that the submission is optional or that parents can indicate ‘Refused’ or ‘Not Yet Obtained’. Text messages seen didn’t go into any explanations at all. The majority of schools informed parents it was data ‘required’ and for funding. Schools worry they will be sanctioned and assumed it was necessary. Parents who had concerns but did not know it was optional, took to social media asking each other what to do. Even celebrities felt helpless. defenddigitalme has raised the most serious concerns to the Information Commissioner Office on a rolling basis.

Parents at a school in London have asked on October 17th, what they can do if the school wishes to withdraw its entire country-of-birth and nationality school census data submission, as they didn’t feel parents had made informed decisions to provide their personal data. Parents and pupils may ask for data submitted in autumn to be withdrawn, by providing an updated return in January. This was communicated to schools on January 11, 2017, a week before the Spring census collection.

For complete background and details, download our latest briefing. [last updated on January 11, 2017.]