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The State of Data 2020 report launch

The State of Data 2020 report: mapping a child’s digital footprint across England’s state education landscape

Children have lost control of their digital footprint by their fifth birthday simply by going to school.
Download the #StateOfData2020 Report Part 1
We call on the government to ‘build better’ in new legislation fit for children’s future. A UK Education and Digital Rights Act.
In 2020 as the world’s children continue to be affected by school closures in the COVID-19 pandemic, technology plays a vital role in education. But many families across the UK still don’t have the necessary hardware or Internet access to support online remote learning at home. The UK Government must work to safeguard the national infrastructure behind the delivery of state education and our future state ability to afford, control, and shape it. And it must also provide a high standards framework for educational settings to be able to address a lack of equity and access at local level; and for consistent and confident due diligence in procurement on technical, and ethical questions.

The Department itself needs systemic and structural change and independent oversight, after the 2020 ICO compulsory audit found it was failing to process data in a fair, lawful and transparent way. The DfE gives away millions of children’s sensitive and identifying records and yet the ICO found that, “the Commercial department do not have appropriate controls in place to protect personal data being processed on behalf of the DfE by data processors.” And data protection law is insufficient to protect children’s full range of rights in the digital environment; protection of participation rights, their reputation, and right to a full and free development.
Research trials are carried out routinely in classrooms without explicit parental consent and no opt-out of the intervention. Products marketed for pupils are increasingly invasive. Learners’ rights are rarely prioritised and the direction of travel is towards ever more centralised surveillance in edTech, more automated decision making and reduced human dignity. Many practices breach data protection, equality and consumer law. Yet there is no mechanism for schools to consistently support families digital rights or route for redress when required.
This year marks 150 years since the Elementary Education Act 1870 received royal assent. It was responsible for setting the framework for schooling of all children between the ages of 5 and 13 in England and Wales. Todays’ legislation, the Education Act 1996 is the primary legislation upon which most statutory instruments are hung to expand pupil data collections, and start new ones for millions of children generally as negative statutory instruments without public consultation or parliamentary scrutiny. It is over twenty years old. It is no longer fit for purpose and lacks the necessary framework when it comes to data processing and related activity in the digital environment in education. It is therefore our first in ten areas of recommended actions on the changes our children need.

This report is in five parts. Only part 1 is out now. The rest, including case studies in a day-in-the-life of a datafied school child, is available on request and will be forthcoming online only.
Foreword by Baroness Beeban Kidron, Chair, 5Rights Foundation
Part 1: a summary report of recommendations and main findings
Part 2: national statutory data collections including a CV at-a-glance of every statutory data collection age 0-25
Part 3: local data processing including a sample day-in-the-life of a datafied school child
Part 4: highlights from the transition year between compulsory school and into Higher Education
Part 5: an annex of data, source materials, research and references.
defenddigitalme most urgent calls for action from government and the Department for Education include:

  • the Department for Education to place a moratorium on the school accountability system and league tables, as pupil data continue to be affected by COVID-19, making comparable outcomes and competitive measures meaningless and misleading. We suggest a pause on the Early Years attainment profile, and Key Stage One SATs and only sampling other data. Reception Baseline Test is not fit for purpose and should be stopped indefinitely, alongside the Multiplications Times Tables Check;
  • core national education infrastructure delivered by the private sector should be put on the national risk register as its fragility has been demonstrated in the COVID-19 crisis;
  • publish a list of actions the Department will undertake in response to the 2020 ICO compulsory audit of the DfE;
  • build better infrastructure at national, regional and local levels founded upon a UK Education and Digital Rights Act, and give it independent oversight through an ombudsman and champion of children’s rights in education, a National Guardian for Education and Digital Rights, placed on a statutory footing.

defenddigitalme makes recommendations in ten topics

  1. Legislation and statutory duties 
  2. Assessment, Attainment, Accountability and Profiling 
  3. Administrative data collections and national datasets 
  4. Principles and practice using technology today 
  5. EdTech evidence, efficacy, ethics, exports and engagement
  6. Children’s rights in a digital environment 
  7. Local data processing
  8. Higher Education
  9. Research
  10. Enforcement

With a foreword by Baroness Beeban Kidron, Chair 5Rights Foundation: 
The State of Data Report provides a snapshot of the uses and abuses of children’s data in school. Its rich findings will be of great help in tackling the inequities and intrusions that children suffer. Robust data privacy protections in schools and educational settings are urgently needed. School is not optional for children and therefore the harvesting of their data must not be compulsory. A child’s gait, their visits to the bathroom, their exam results, their parents’ immigration status and their visits to the school counsellors must not be available to third parties, nor should companies be allowed to claim educational benefits that are unproven nor be able to impact on young people’s educational outcomes without meeting minimum standards that ensure their products are fit for use. This comprehensive report deserves close reading by all those concerned with children’s privacy and security. Ministers and officials in the Department of Education and government would do well to consider its detailed recommendations that reveal both a gross injustice for an entire generation of children, and usefully signpost the way forward.
Report author and defenddigitalme Founder, Jen Persson, said:
We need to move towards a better data rights management framework if families are ever going to take back control of their children’s rights in the education system. Data protection law fails to take into account the full range of rights that need protection in the digital environment and at the moment it’s all about enabling passing children’s personal data to third parties far beyond parents’ expectations and what is fair. It fails to address topics like how children are involved in product testing and behavioural trials in everyday classroom activity. Or consider the bias and discrimination that affects historical datasets highlighted by this year’s exam awarding process. Privacy isn’t only a tool to protect individuals’ lives, their human dignity and their future selves. Access to children’s data is the gateway to the control of the entire state education system itself. That knowledge is produced today for free by the teachers and children who spend time administering and working in these digital systems owned by companies around the world with over 40% of edTech funding from China and the same from the U.S. We need to get far more transparency from companies over their business models and future plans for freeware and the stability and security of the state education system.

You may also appreciate: The State of Data Event (free and open access)  

Over 20 experts presented short talks on key topics during our accompanying State of Data 2020 remote event on 29-30 September 2020, that drew out many of the report key issues.