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The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill: Report stage

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] report stage begins on October 12, 2021 in the House of Lords. It contains Clause 11 about Information sharing in relation to technical education qualifications. According to its notes, the territorial extent includes all of the UK.

We believe that the Department for Education is not fit for making new data laws while issues from the ICO’s compulsory audit of the Department for Education are still unresolved.

The Bill is wide-open to misappropriation of students’ personal data. It needs:

  • Personal data should not be distributed, the data should stay in safe settings only, and secure access distributed.
  • Protection from onward access or distribution, to further sub-processors through the prescribed persons or relevant body who are not listed on the face of the Bill.
  • An obligation to publish a register of use by data controllers, joint-controllers and their processors.

At best worst case is a duty on the Information Commissioner to prepare a Code of Practice that reaches across all these bodies and prescribed persons, made open to public consultation.


Download our full briefing .pdf 178kB

Download our skeleton outline (2 pager) 120kB


What do students want?

In 2015 UCAS carried out a survey which had 37,000 responses. “A majority of UCAS applicants agree that sharing personal data can benefit them and support research into university admissions, but they want to stay firmly in control.” A large majority, 90%, of respondents said they wanted to be asked for their consent before their personal data is shared with anyone outside of the admissions service.

Students need additional safeguards to control the use of their data at and after collection during its complete life cycle until destruction.


This is not just the small change it looks

This is yet another step along a route to the destruction of student confidentiality. The release of individuals’ identifiable data in Technical Education was already changed in legislation in 2017. Part 3, s40 of the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 changed what data could be collected by the Secretary of State. Now this Bill changes how it can be handed out and to whom, and why, and it is all rather vague because it also includes open ended powers to the Secretary of State to decide who else the data may go to and why.

In the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill,

“This clause inserts new section 40AB into the 2009 Act. It supports effective collaboration between Ofqual and other bodies with functions in relation to technical education qualifications, by introducing information-sharing provisions similar to those relating to the Institute under section 40AA of the 2009 Act.

It empowers Ofqual to share information in relation to technical education qualifications with the Secretary of State, Ofsted and the Office for Students, as well as with other bodies that the Secretary of State may prescribe. It also allows these bodies to share technical education information with Ofqual.This information sharing may support the technical education functions of Ofqual or the other relevant bodies.” (our emphasis added)

As with all recent legislation and data policy from government, the bill overrides consent, and there are no guarantees on how data may be used by the ‘prescribed persons’ who are unrestricted and undefined in the Bill, and for vague purposes that do not preclude commercial use. That, “could undermine applicants’ trust in the admissions service, degrade the quality of data collected, and potentially deter some people from applying to university altogether,” according to UCAS in 2017 when talking about the changes made to the Higher Education and Research Act (Point 25, UCAS evidence to Committee in 2017).

This Bill on data in Technical Education could usefully learn lessons from those similar historic changes in Higher Education.

In the July 2018 Motion of Regret debate on the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (Cooperation and Information Sharing) Regulations 2018  Lord Watson of Invergowrie called on the government to carry out a privacy impact assessment on the Regulations. This assessment is also missing from the 2021 The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL].

He made the point that, “during the passage of the Higher Education and Research Bill, noble Lords and MPs raised concerns about the powers in the regulatory function of the Office for Students and questions of institutional autonomy. ” This Skills Bill again expands the powers given to the Office for Students through their expanded data access.

Lord Watson said in debate on July 2018, “They create for the Office for Students to grant access to students’ confidential data to a single commercial provider…the purposes for which the data may be used remain open and vague.” The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] has the same problem because this Skills Bill once again leaves open the question of who may access the data in future without further consultation, since in future they can add, “other bodies that the Secretary of State may prescribe.”

Lord Watson said in debate on July 2018, “We have a number of concerns, not least that, as I said, there has been no parliamentary debate or public consultation.” This new Skills Bill once again sidesteps any public consultation on a new data grab without safeguards on what happens next.

There must be serious consideration given with urgency on enabling how public administrative datasets are managed. Personal data from the public, from pupils to students and throughout the data life cycle, is easily taken and passed around and lost, or stolen, or given to gambling companies and access credentials left open, unaudited, to companies that have gone bust.

Yet the mechanisms to manage our lawful rights, to permit uses, correct mistakes, and give or withhold consent for further purposes not defined at the point of collection do not exist today by any adequate or consistent routes.

The Government must enable that infrastructure to be put in place for all public administrative datasets. They could usefully start when a project is new, such as here with students age 16+ in technical and further education.


The Bill dates (as of October 6, 2021)

  • Friday 8 October
    Last day to table amendments for the marshalled list for:  Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] – Report (day 1)
  • Tuesday 12 October 
    Business in the Chamber at 2.30pm 
    1. Oral questions (40 minutes) 
    2. Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] – Report (day 1 of 2)
  • Thursday 14 October
    Last day to table amendments for the marshalled list for:  Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] – Report (day 2)
  • Monday 18 October 
    Business in the Chamber at 2.30pm 
    1. Oral questions (40 minutes) 
    2. Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] – Report (day 2 of 2)
  • Friday 22 October
    Last day to table amendments for the marshalled list for:  Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] – Third Reading
  • Monday 25 October
    Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] – Third Reading