News / National Pupil Database pupil privacy

Children’s nationality data from new school census was planned for the Home Office

On the day of the autumn school census collection, October 6th 2016, children’s newly collected nationality data had been intended for giving to the Home Office, a Schools Week FOI and the MOU reveal, contrary to what has been said, before being changed on the 7th.
The question remains open: Is the new census data, including nationality, used within the DfE to deliver the named details to the HO with an increased matching ‘success’ rate? Ministers have said since in written PQs and in the House of Lords and Commons, that this is not the intent of this census collection. But leaked letters revealed otherwise, that this is a Home Office policy, not one for educational purposes.
The Memorandum of Understanding between the Home Office (Business owner: Home Office Removals Casework) [1] and Department for Education (National pupil database and data sharing team) on using school children’s personal data has been released via FOI.
The wording about this direct data transfer of nationality data was changed in the agreement v2.1 on October 7, 2016 (the day after the first collection of the new data) after the Against Borders for Children campaign pressure from over 20 rights organisations, public and press scrutiny, asking to see this MOU, and the change is noted with an amendment “to reduce scope of elements sent to HO and transfer mechanism to EGRESS.” However we have reservations whether this will make any material difference and the original MOU has still to be provided, we only have access to the current version.
The new nationality data collection had been agreed in 2015 as part of a compromise with the Home Office and underlines the illegitimacy of the census for all. While the MOU documents some details on data processes [2], it is as much a policy guide to the immigration enforcement purposes of the Home Office in place since summer 2015. The HO is piggybacking administrative data from children collected in their everyday education for immigration enforcement measures.
Letters leaked to the BBC last week revealed that the school census expansion from 2017 was agreed as part of a package of specific measures at the request of the Home Office and Cabinet Office, as part of the Immigration Taskforce plans in July 2015. The Secretary of State wrote that the Department would gather pupil-level data on children’s country of birth, nationality and English proficiency through the school census, and the agreement was preceded by statements that the government was ‘elected with a clear mandate to bring down net migration’.
What ministers said will be done with pupil data in Summer this year, does not match up with what the Department was already doing, or its future plans which were in place on the day of the autumn school census.
After children’s school census data had already been used to target families this way since July 2015 for a year in secret, Nick Gibb responded to questions, this summer, saying, “There are currently no plans to share the data with other government Departments.” But they are saying one thing, and meaning another.
In the Lords in the afternoon of October 12th Viscount Younger of Leckie saidI can reassure the noble Lord the information is not given to the Home Office.” and that “that the information is kept within the Department for Education.” Was he kept in the dark?
The Department for Education seems to have been bullied into a corner to meet Home Office divisive demands but our schools are no place for bullies, or border guards.
We still have deep concerns:

  1. this new census nationality data may be used, even if the nationality data itself is not exchanged, country-of-birth, language and nationality data may 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.
  2. there is no register that tracks these uses (even without nationality data), so while the DfE says these data will “not be passed to the Home Office” they are yet to confirm that the data will not be used for these purposes in future if the MOU is not legally binding.
  3. there are no safeguards, or oversight documented in the process, or way to know the error rate
  4. mistakes will not be transparent, as there is no way for people to know if their data has been used, no course of redress for individuals wrongly targeted or matched. Given the problems pointed out in the 2016 report of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration: “An inspection of the hostile environment measures relating to drivers licenses and bank accounts Jan-July 2016,” this must be addressed.
  5. in the absence of a statutory (data sharing) gateway the Home Office will rely on its common law powers to share information” for the HO –> DfE transfer and relies on legislation to use the data it gets back. But this should be a huge red flag to what the Digital Economy Bill will mean for every single one of us in the UK. All our admin data will be fair game and it seems a pass to access-all-areas if the Digital Economy Bill provides a statutory gateway for sharing data across government.
  6. the DfE and Home Office are rummaging in our children’s confidential school records from the last 5 years for addresses and personal data without consent, safeguards, transparency or oversight, in a policy without public or parliamentary consultation, debate or planning to ever tell us. Even if none of the newly collected census data are used by this government – Nationality, Country-of-Birth and Language details – we’ve no guarantee for future – and let’s not forget that the existing policy still carries on.

We echo the UK Statistics Authority call for the DfE 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.”
We respectfully continue to call for an end of the collection of the items in Statutory Instrument 808/2016 ahead of January 19, 2017 the second census collection of these data from state funded school children.
Jen Persson, says, “This new school census collection has lost all legitimacy. It can’t continue to grab every child’s personal data under false pretences of the purposes what it’s for. Ministers said in July this data was not for giving to the Home Office but it seems that even on census day itself, that was exactly what the data sharing agreements had intended to do.
It’s time to call off the changes in the school census before its next due date on January 19 and a review needs to take place, with full transparency, and independent oversight built into its safe management.
“If the policy continues it will come at an enormous cost of public and professional trust in all data collection by the Department and undermines its data integrity. Worryingly, this is a red flag for the entire nation’s administrative datasets, for public interest research, and the integrity of our statistical data if the Home Office can access all areas in secret and without safeguards or oversight.”
For a complete background and timeline, download our latest briefing, updated on December 15, 2016.

[1] Version 1.1 New draft version including updated purpose 27/11/2015
Final v 2.0 18/12/2015 Final Version
Version 2.1 07/10/2016 Updated version to reduce scope of elements sent to HO and transfer  mechanism to EGRESS
[2] The HO casework information database (CID) gives the DfE: surname, middle name, forenames, address, post code, gender, date of birth and CID ID. (p14 / 15.2.1) The data accessed for people may be up to 5 years from before the date of request. The DfE will match this information against records and then in response provide the HO with information relating to those individuals that match the DfE records which can include adding school number, school name, earliest and latest known pupil date at school. The process runs on a monthly basis, and expects to involve in the region of 1500 people’s records in any one month. In exceptional circumstances (safeguarding or security 15.4.4) the HO may include up to a further 50 records that will be checked manually by the DfE. (p14/15.2.3) This indicates that the bulk of the checks are done by computer. Three users who can access the returned results by logging into the system are all Removals Casework team staff.
[3] Complete background and timeline of key events and criticism from professional bodies, politicians and public campaign can be downloaded here. [Updated on December 15, 2016]

TAKE ACTION: Saturday 14th January: Save the date for the Against Borders for Children campaign conference in London ahead of the next spring census collection in January, to find out what you can do and get involved in the #BoycottSchoolCensus campaign.