News / National Pupil Database

Spring 2019 first half term report card

As we approach Easter weekend, we wish everyone a restful holiday ahead of next half term. Here are some of our highlights and news from this half.

SATs and scores that last a lifetime have been in the news this week, after the NEU conference decided to ballot on a possible boycott of the high stakes testing. Since no one tells families just how widely these tests and results are shared with third parties, and are even used for predictive risk profiling, staff have our full support. Unregulated software using predictive algorithms is starting to colonise large areas of the public sector, often having a big impact on peoples’ lives and including hidden use of their education history.

We will be challenging the Department more firmly on this failure to communicate the uses of the National Pupil Database in the next half term.

We also advise schools to steer clear of the upcoming Multiplication Tables Check (MTC) pilot, unless the systems and guidance are made fit for purpose. It appears that in the ever expanding accountability regime, there is ever less accountability from national bodies. We are pending answers about risk assessment, not provided in the guidance to schools.

Since the Minister confirmed that school census data are still used to enforce immigration laws and the government has revoked parents’ right to retract information on their children’s nationality and country of birth, we responded to schools that want to withdraw data at school level with a template guide, and we continue to support families’ requests while we all await the ICO response to complaints.

Following the launch of the Department for Education edTech strategy, we will now be closely following if and how plans include

  1. Data Protection and Privacy training in basic teacher training as well as CPD
  2. Spending controls, audit, and redress for lack of delivery
  3. Procurement reform to improve quality and delivery standards to reduce support workload and displacement of cost, to both schools and parent to a) avoid lock-in and corporate capture of infrastructure and the curriculum or its delivery through freemium products in particular and b) get improved national Service Level Agreement templates for minimum quality standards in place and c) ensure standards avoid parental exploitation as part of due diligence / DPIA standards at local / MAT / purchasing levels.
  4. Improved national infosec policy — whether it’s Blackpool schools’ CCTV streaming on US websites last year, or Edmodo’s massive 2017 loss of 78 million school children’s records, including from the UK, recent reality has not been good.

The Department for Education will need to urgently consider what is unacceptable, as well as what they wish to be seen to promote in their strategy. An unlawfully trained AI with excessive data collection is one thing, a brain scanning headband may be quite another. We will keep challenging the Department on questions of boundaries and safeguards that must go beyond what schools believe is good enough as long as the salesperson is convincing. This will tie into the overall aims of the Information Commissioner’s Office work on children, in the coming months.

We welcomed the second stage of consultation on the ICO Age Appropriate Code of Practice which will accept responses until May 31.

Our Directors have presented at various events, including the Privacy and Data Protection Conference in Brussels, at the Council of Europe Committee of Convention 108, and we thoroughly enjoyed re-imagining a rights’ respecting future at the Tate in February, at Who’s watching you: hosted by Child Rights International and #BETAsociety events.

We still need to talk about Safeguarding-in-Schools, as we did at the NEU conference. Get in touch if you want to be involved in independent academic research on how these systems work in situ. This will contribute to the coming review of the Prevent programme.

We have met with a wide range of individuals, companies and other organisations this term and responded to national and international consultations. We have been delighted to have had the support of a number of rights’ organisations, and many new volunteers. We look forward to continued engagement with them, with the Department for Education, and wider bodies, and on a renewed footing.

It is with enormous appreciation, we welcomed the news this half term that our funding has been confirmed for another year from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd.

Despite the challenges that Brexit poses for Departmental time and resources, we will persevere in our work to hold power to account and reimagine a rights’ respecting world, with a sense of urgency. Because children cannot afford to wait for policy makers and practitioners to get their act together on making children’s data safe, fair and transparent across the education sector and its wider sharing into the public sector, and with commercial companies.

Next half term will undoubtedly be as busy. Until we start back, happy holidays.