Government withdraws plan to collect Early Years nationality pupil data
National Pupil Database pupil privacy / November 17, 2016
We welcome the news that the Department for Education (DfE) has dropped plans to collect country-of-birth and nationality data from children aged 2-5 in the Early Years, and Alternative Provision, scheduled for January 19.
For the majority of children aged 5-19 the changes launched in the 2016-17 School Census continue. With only a few weeks to go before the Spring collection date, we are asking the government how they will avoid risking a repeat of the harm and division caused in classrooms and to families in the Autumn on October 6.
Fixing practical collection issues pose a real challenge for the Department to reach schools, parents and pupils, given the timeframe and communications around Christmas holidays, especially where data has already been collected.
“The Department is going to need to make enormous efforts to patch up this damaging policy.
“Instead we believe the DfE could invest this time in continuing their positive work-in-progress towards better handling of the named and detailed 20 million records from all under 35s the Department already has. We support a longer term approach to assess and then improve the whole school census collection for future.
“Given the new data distribution laws planned in the Digital Economy Bill and associated issues around wider use, the urgent focus must be to make all pupils’ existing personal data secure, restore appropriate regard for privacy, and manage its use in public interest research with consent, before more new data is collected.” 
Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, told the House of Lords in a motion of regret on October 31, that he would consider how parents may be able to retract the data already submitted. Government now needs to answer that question, and provide an answer to schools who have sent nationality data to the Department without informing parents or pupils, or collected country-of-birth without a fair collection process.
We should not forget all the other named, sensitive data extracted every term and its use.
While the government has backed down on collecting country-of-birth and nationality from pre-schoolers, ethnicity and language will be collected for the first time, and more personal data than ever before from this age group.
The basic questions of fundamental rights about all children’s data privacy are raised in this sub-set of the data collection:
- the legality of the collection process is doubtful where parents and pupils are not properly informed about who will use the data, it is being used for many purposes that are not explained, including non-educational uses, and rights to object and opt out of collection are not explained
- there is significant interference in private and family life in both the collection and use of data
- a privacy impact assessment for the whole National Pupil Database (NPD) has never been done
Where the new collection is not of clear and defined benefit which makes it necessary to collect nationality data for all children, it is questionable whether it is necessary to collect it for any children.
“Parents are upset, not only about how this information might be used but because these questions are asked at all. They are fundamentally intrusive.”  Quote from the Earl of Clancarty in the House of Lords, October 31.
“Unfortunately, all the evidence points to this being an immigration tactic rather than having anything to do with trying to improve the education of young people or supporting our schools.”  Quote from Lord Paddick in the House of Lords, October 31.
“I am disappointed that the Government did not retract what they had done when they realised how stupid all this is. So I am afraid I am not convinced. I know that this will not have any effect on what has happened, but it is important that people stand up and be counted.”  Quote from Lord Storey in the House of Lords, October 31.
We welcome the Department’s decision for some of England’s eleven million children.
We hope Ministers will now take the same approach towards the majority of children, in state funded primary and secondary schools, and rethink the collection of country of birth and nationality from every child in England.
 Jen Persson, coordinator, defenddigitalme
 31 October 2016, The Earl of Clancarty, House of Lords Motion of Regret https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2016-10-31/debates/6D06F8D5-7709-43DF-87ED-33CBBC7324FF/Education(PupilInformation)(England)(MiscellaneousAmendments)Regulations2016
 31 October 2016, Lord Paddick, House of Lords Motion of Regret [ibid]
 31 October 2016, Lord Storey, House of Lords Motion of Regret [ibid]
 School and pupil numbers (source: gov.uk, January 2016)