News / National Pupil Database

2019 in Review. Happy New Year.

As 2019 draws to a close, it is customary for people to look back and review the last twelve months in detail, or even the last ten years. You should certainly take a look at the review of edTech failures and fallacies by Audrey Watters, The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade.

We’re not going to do that for the UK, though there is much overlap and some things we could add. Here’s simply a quick comment on a small selection of areas from our work, and hints of what lies ahead for 2020.

1. Your data is still given away.

The Department for Education, still gives away millions of people’s named and identifying data to companies and other third-parties from national pupil data, without our knowledge or consent. Our core aim is to end that.

So have we made any progress towards safer, fairer, more transparent use of children’s data in education in England? It may feel like not a lot. There were even surprises about what is in it and who it is shared with, and there are more to come.

2. We need change for good.

We still need tremendous changes for good national data practice in the education sector in England and to do edTech well, in a rights-respecting way. Our Director, Jen Persson, laid out her thoughts on this recently.

3. Enforcement action.

We also need strong enforcement of data protection rights from regulatory authorities, including cross-border. There has been no action taken this year in UK schools or edTech companies, although the ICO has carried out twelve audits of academy trusts in England. We expect more enforcement from the regulator in 2020, not least in eight areas in which we have supported families’ in their complaints this year.

4. Labels Last A Lifetime.

We await the full ICO response to a regulatory complaint through our legal team on the handling of the National Pupil Database by the DfE, as part of our campaign, Labels Last A Lifetime. Initial findings include that there were wide ranging and serious data protection issues. This backed our findings from our 2018 survey, that parents and pupils don’t know this database exists.

5. New data to be added in 2020.

2019 has been about the Baseline Test for 4-year olds and the Multiplications Check that will be added to the National pupil Database. Those expansions will continue to draw criticism in 2020.

6. Preventing education.

The education sector made the most referrals (2,426) to the Prevent programme in 2017/2018, accounting for 33%. We expect to hear in early 2020 what happens next regards the Prevent Review after the removal of Lord Carlile. We continue to review the the data distribution aspects of Prevent by schools, companies, and police.

7. Collaboration of the Year.

In December it was great to see the Against Borders for Children coalition recognised for their work, coming third in collaboration of the year in the Good Lobby Awards. The #BoycottSchoolCensus campaign continues into 2020 calling for the data collected to date to be deleted, and regulations revoked. We are waiting for the ICO response to data retention on that. Here’s a reminder of some of the history and final moments of a scandalous school children’s data collection that should never have been.

But we can’t forget that the school census is still used by the Department for Education to hand over data to meet Home Office immigration demands. That misuse continues monthly. In 2020, we await a decision in full, of its regulatory review and we continue to press for enforcement of change in collection, retention and processing practices.

8. The world we want.

Our grassroots work in the run up to the General Election on December 12th with #MyVote2019UK will continue as we work together with young people, campaigning for ‘the world we want’.

9. Age Appropriate?

The ICO redrafted Age Appropriate Code of Practice was shared with the Department for Culture Media and Sport during purdah in November, but was not externally. We will see what happens next.

10. Online Harms

The same goes for Online Harms legislation which some are very keen to push through, even as a Private Members Bill if the government does not. We are keeping a close eye on the potential implications for children’s rights, for example in the use of UK school products for online behavioural surveillance products, such as Fortinet. Their security issues in the last year, raise questions over the fitness and oversight of safeguarding-in-schools under the Prevent programme, as well as ‘online harms’ more broadly.

11. Recommendations to follow.

The Council of Europe will issue recommendations in 2020 to signatory States to Convention 108, with Guidelines for action on privacy and data protection for children in education.

12. The State of Data 2020 in schools.

We will launch our own long-researched report on the State of Data 2020: the data landscape in the education sector in England. And we will be calling for legislation to put in place the foundation we need for schools, for the organisations, for companies and developers, but most of all, that our children need for a rights’ respecting foundation for their future.

Thank you

In terms of organisation, we’ve grown, had some great volunteers, started some strong new collaborations and continued others. We launched our Advisory Council. We are constantly learning. We are still to see the rights-respecting world we want. It can often feel that we’ve done a lot and achieved little. But we’ve been building its foundations this year. We’re optimistic going into 2020.

We hope to see our efforts start to bear more fruit as we see more regulatory action and real change in national data practice. But failing that, we will tackle injustices on child rights and support families’ concerns about education data in the courts.

We welcome your support. You can see some of the subjects and materials from our participation in 2019 events here, and we will be delighted to meet you at what’s coming up in 2020. Even if you subscribed in the past, please sign up for our new newsletter, as we changed provider for 2020.

We must say an enormous thank you to the many people who have supported our efforts, both up front and behind the scenes.

Thank you to the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Limited and Lush Charity Pot team for their continued support this year once again, to donors to our crowd funder, and for financial support for litigation.

As 2019 draws to a close, we wish you all well for 2020.

Happy New Year from all of us at defenddigitalme.